After nearly eight years of scrawling on these pages, I’ll be shutting down CNG in a few weeks. Until then, I intend to start my day here.
I spent half a year back in 2011/12 living in Hong Kong, where many of my closest friends and coworkers were Filipinos. They were an absolute blast, loved a rum and a chat, and served as a welcome breather from the relative straight-arrow Cantonese or hard-living banking types.
Most came from Manila, and we headed there at the tail end of our Philippines trip for a few days prior to heading across the South China Sea to Saigon.
First impressions of the town is one of sheer expanse. The city is colossal. It stretches across the shoreline of Manila Bay, inland and elsewhere, for miles, primarily constructed of low-rise, yet high-density blocks. The roads are an absolute mess – moving 3-4 kilometres can take hours, sitting in the air-con, tunes on, your experience punctuated by lane-filtering scooters making considerably better time. Imagine Sydney or Paris with no subway system, and you will get an idea for the congestion.
We posted up in the business district, close enough to visit some key areas, in a hotel advertising this lovely rooftop pool (it was out of service). From there, we had the city centre, the ancient city of Intramuros, and a wealth of bars and restaurants on our doorstep. Manila loves a good cover band, and during the evenings they were belting out some great tunes with impressive accuracy.
It was here that we finally got up the courage to try a local delicacy, which had been available on the street since we arrived in Palawan: balut. An egg is allowed to develop – somewhat – before being removed from it’s owner and cooked. You then devour a slightly, or not-so-slightly developed, egg fetus. Once was enough.
Leaving almost as much an impression on us was Intramuros, where a military museum documented the brutal Battle of Manila. A Japanese general, whose carrier had been sunk by the Americans months earlier, had a bee in his bonnet and refused to vacate, directing his men to fight to the last man in this unique and once-lovely suburb, reducing most of it to rubble and killing tens of thousands. It seemed incomprehensible on the bright and warm day on which we explored.
A year after this trip concluded, a Chinese-Filipino coworker and I discussed the ongoing drug war occurring under Duterte. Her family is a reminder of Manila’s status as a global city: she is third-generation Filipino, but despite her passport, does not identify as such, preferring to stay closer to her Chinese roots. Trilingual, a professional, she surprised me with her support for Duterte’s goon squads.
‘Well, it’s only drug dealers who are being killed. They deserve to die.’
It was a strange lesson in the intergenerational quality of dictatorial love. She simply couldn’t conceive of the abuse of power, in spite of the examples in her homeland, either real or self-identified. It wasn’t the only time I came across this strange mode of thinking here, and given the growing influence of her ancestral home in the region, it likely won’t be the last.