A few months ago, I had the privilege of traveling to the Philippines with a friend of mine. It is especially wonderful to visit a new location with someone who is from that place. That way, they know all the best things to see and do, but, more importantly, they can help interpret the culture for you. We flew in and out of Manila, and spent a few days in the city on either end. This was my first trip to Asia.
One of the things that struck me the most about Manila was how all the various components of a large international city are all mixed in together. Ultra modern, sleek high rise office buildings and luxury apartment buildings tower above delapidated housing and ad hoc market stalls made from scrap materials. Lush gardens and sparkling swimming pools hide behind wrought iron fences. The streets in between teem with all manner of transportation, from luxury cars to shared mini-buses, to motorbikes.
In the West, particularly in the U.S., we tend to segregate our cities and towns socioeconomically. Sometimes this is intentional, by way of zoning, and others happen due to market factors — certain neighborhoods become too expensive for all but the elite, and affordable housing and commercial property tends to cluster in less desirable locations. In Manilla, in addition to housing areas being socioeconomically mixed, much of the shopping districts and malls were also of varied price levels. Designer fashion stores stand beside affordable shops and stalls. As a result, people from all walks of life are out shopping, strolling and eating together.
Based on my observations and interactions, the majority of the people I met, encountered, or just passed on the street seemed to be happy. Shopkeepers, wait staff, and other service people were very polite and helpful. People my friend introduced me to were warm and welcoming. Those things could, perhaps, be expected. However, the people on the street also seemed to be contented. They smiled at passersby, laughed and talked with each other, and often singing or humming. I particularly enjoyed seeing families and friends holding spontaneous picnics in the public spaces and just enjoying life.
Pretty much everyone I encountered spoke English. That is certainly not something I expect when traveling abroad, but it was a nice surprise and made things very easy. Because so many things are manufactured in the Philippines, amazing bargains can be had, particularly on clothing, shoes, and handbags. I bought a lot of baby clothes for my grandson, even though he had yet to be born. Manila also has a lot of wonderful restaurants. In addition to Filipino specialties like adobo, lumpia, roast piglet, and paella, I tasted some fabulous food from other parts of Asia, like Thai and Japanese. I also indulged in some marvelous French pastries.
Even though I was only in Manila a few days, transiting, I really enjoyed my visit. It is a fascinating, friendly, busy city. I definitely would go back.
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