Mabuhay!

We are back in the Philippines – Manila, to be precise, and I am quite happy to be wandering about again solo. No, not wandering too far as in trekking on my own and all the brave things single female travellers do. I simply mall hop and window shop whilst the hubby is having meetings. I can’t understand why when I hear advice about being bored walking about alone. I find it liberating. 

We came in early so we could spend the weekend at Tagaytay before SJ had to go to his meetings. The journey took about an hour half from Manila via the highway by car. Interesting sights along the way – banana, papaya, and pineapple farms; pomelos from Davao; wood craft shops; fresh flower markets and manufacturing plants. There is a suburb somewhere in the middle of the trip called Santa Rosa – it looked so much like a US suburb with malls, fast food joints and supermarkets spread across the area. Fun stopover if you have time to spare on your return trip. We heard the upper class have houses here, and what pretty houses they are.


There is an active volcano in Tagaytay – the Taal volcano. It has a pretty large crater 25-30km or so and its mouth is strategically located in a lake that makes for a picturesque landscape and keeps a somewhat safe distance away from lava-trouble. This thing sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is a decade volcano, one that is analyzed and studied because of devastating destruction it brought to the inhabitants there. But they have really fertile soil and a booming tourist industry. Quits?

We had lunch at this place (image below) and had just the biggest serving of stewed beef (aka Bulalao) for 2 outside the US. It was glorious! The Beef Extraordinaire fell apart on my plate and sort of melted in my mouth. Who the devil cooked this and made me eat more than my usual share of meat? Thank you! 



Most people, we were again told, go there to trek. We ate our way around. More proof:




On our way back, we got caught in a jam that took us two and a half hours. The first part was caused by a religious provincial dance in the middle of a single-lane motorway and the later half was because there were just too many cars. 

Another place often visited for souvenirs is People’s Palace in the Sky, a half completed Presidential Manor supposedly built for Ronald Regan’s visit way back when. But he never did visit so the place became one for tourists. 

Cost for car rental with a driver for an 8 hour trip, gas and tolls was a little over S$80 per person. Good deal for a personalized daytrip.

Taking Things for Granted

Availability of WiFi, that is. Me and the Internet are rather inseparable these days. 🙂

I walked in two different international coffee franchises in Manila, and discovered I had to pay to get connected both times. Where I come from and other places I have been to, WiFi is complementary if you are a patron.

That is the one good thing I rely on when travelling: Assurance of connectivity when you most want it in coffee places you know have sprouted up everywhere.

And I love coffee. Everything works out. It’s almost second nature for me to let my nose lead me to coffee when I want WiFi.

Sometimes, it is not for fun. In desperate times when a plane delay meant missing your schedule completely, rearrangements need to be made or things will get forfeited. The faster the better to minimize the size of disasters. I know coffee will get me through.

Paying for access definitely works, but there is something pacifying about the WiFi being free, almost like an empathetic presence offering bytes of consolation. With caffeine, the breeze beneath your wings. There is also the odd sense of satisfaction at being able to get everything done without feeling like you are being doubly punished by and for a delay.

I saw in the papers yesterday that Filipinos are asking that WiFi be made available in public spaces. I suppose the high demand for it has somehow caused policies at the coffee chains here to be amended to include a charge.

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Awed

I have both feet soaked in foamy tepid water in a cool, dim room with soft music playing overhead that should be lulling me to sleep. But I am keeping both eyes open for my foot fetish treatment. And to watch my laptop and passports we needed to drag out with us because we checked out of the hotel and will leave for home in the evening. The full lunch and lazyboy rocking away are not helping. But I am determined!

Lunch was fabulous. Like this:

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In an area that looks like this at night:

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With time to kill, we walked to the other end of BGC earlier, to another high-end mall that sprouted out of nowhere. There was nothing that we needed, except for the disposable ear cleaning devices from Muji that SJ is so fond of. After wandering around a little, we stepped into a shop where we met a Filipino who worked in Singapore as a chef for a few years. He told us that he was going to open a restaurant in his hometown two years from now, and the La Mian that he learnt how to make in Singapore will be one of the items on his gourmet menu. He was also dabbling in a bunch of other things, real estate and tour guiding seem to be some of them to ensure income came from as many routes as possible. Wow. His tenacity spoke volumes for his hunger for success.

And he is not alone. If I can see this so clearly in the short time I am here then I am quite sure the effect is not an isolated instance. They can certainly give the competition a run for their money. All these despite the tough living conditions and immense effort they need to put in just to have the opportunity. What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. The human spirit is a wonderful thing.

Unexpectedly Reading in the Philippines

It was about 11am when I stepped into the spanking new SM Aura Mall, located next to Market, Market at the end of Bonifacio High Street. Spacious thing she is with many brand name shops but nary two shoppers in sight. This mall sprouted up between our last visit and the current one, and the one shop that held my attention was National Bookstore.

I am only really interested in bargains and the Sale signages put up in the shops must have been placed there by fibbing retail kings. Things are way more expensive here than back home – I am guessing the taxes stuck onto imports are not meant to be beneficial for consumers, whom are mostly expats around here. Silly me, when were they ever?

BUT books are reasonably priced, much to my surprise. A good 30% less. I thought it was probably because I was looking at teen romance novels, and not a Tolkien nor a Tom Clancy. So to satisfy my curiousity, I checked out another bookstore – Fully Booked (yes, cute name) – turned out that books are indeed cheaper.

I was in the mood for something light and flighty 🙂 and so my hands reached out for this which I finished it in a few hours:

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I missed reading.
The luxury of getting lost in an enjoyable book while the hours whittle by is sheer bliss. I had so many things I said I wanted to do here, but coffee and a book laid claim to my time and I forgot about the rest. Little joys reclaimed! I’m itching to read books two and three…yes, they’re for teens but darn if I let that stop me.

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It’s more fun in the Philippines

What was it about Manila that is memorable?

Bonifacio Global City

The first thing that pops to mind is the intense security detail.  If you’re looking to invest in a business in Manila, protective services is it. It is ubiquitous and pervasive, just like the internet. I do feel safer, but at the same time a little apprenhensive about why they needed it to be so intense. The guards come with shotguns, not pistols. Do something wrong and you EXplodE, not just get maimed or wounded! They probably have a license to kill. There are also security gantries that beep for metal at entrances to the larger establishments, much like the ones you find at airports. Some have guard dogs too, Alsatians and Retrievers. I was quite amused to see a Retriever come up to sniff my luggage when I arrived at the hotel entrance. He* must get a lot of odd smells now and then – only if he could talk we’d know.

*’He’ because of higher probability as security is, afterall, a male-dominated profession

The second is our virgin Segway ride. We did this with White Knight Tours to see the sights in Intramuros. Our ‘handlers’ (Adrian, Adam, Harold) got us to practice within the safety of their grounds before we ventured out onto the roads with honking traffic. I took a while to get comfortable, but I don’t think I mastered it going downslope – I tended to slide sideways. Gaahh! If the staff weren’t around, I would probably have landed on my butt two times. They must have been lamenting inside about walking under the hot, hot sun alongside this numskull with clumsy control of  a simple machine. I had foot cramps (!!??!?) after ‘cos I was so tensed up. But they were very good-natured, friendly and reassuring – it was fun! I remember St Augustine’s Cathedral, the Fortress and the garden with all the metal portraits of Phillipine Presidents – but I don’t recall the rest due to nervous rider’s amnesia…

SJ raved about their food. I know why.                                                                                 No veggies. Fried stuff. Quail eggs in his Beef Pho! His type of diet served on a platter.

Food was really quite good, particularly at this place called Sentro 1771 where they serve inexpensive, local fare. Recommended dishes to be accompanied with rice:              Rated GG: Galunggong fillets (it’s fish) in garlic oil
Home-styled Chicken Adobo: Chicken stewed in cane vinegar soy sauce and native garlic                                                                                                                                       Soup: Vegetables in tamarind soup

BeST meal I had there!

Manila exceeded our expectations. We never expected Bonifacio Global City nor Greenbelt Malls nor the unassuming, warm-hearted people.  The massages we had at LeSpa@Sofitel were fantabulous. This is a place I’d go back to someday.

 

[First published: 22 Mar 2013]