The Philippines

The Philippines

Here are some photos to illustrate my story.

After a night at KL's flashy new airport I flew with Air Asia to Clark. Clark used to be Clark Air Force base of the US Air Force and is now officially called 'Diosdado Macapagal International Airport' but everybody including the airline timetables still call it Clark. The Americans left in 1992, earlier than they had planned to but the eruption of the nearby volcano 'Mount Pinatubo' destroyed most of the base and they decided it wasn't worth rebuilding it when they would leave in a few years anyway. a small part of the base is now an International budget airport with six flights a day. There is an official bus to downtown Manila which is about 70 Km away but it is 350 Peso or about 7 US$, too much for me. I asked around in the airport and have a plan to get into town by public transport. First I have to walk a bit, it still feels very much like an American base, the buildings are typical US barracks style and there are 4-way stop sings at the road crossings. The main gate of the base is about 8km away, too far to walk in the heat. It's a very green valley and Mount Pinatubo is visible in the distance. There are jeepneys everywhere. Jeepneys were originally converted US army jeeps to transport people in the covered back, from the front even today's models still look a bit like a jeep, but they are much bigger and mostly silvers with lots of stuff patched on. The first driver wants 150 peso for the ride to the gate, I laugh at him because I know it should be 8.50, but you can't blame him for trying. For a fresh arrival from Europe $3 may sound cheap for a 8km ride. I get on the next one and just give the driver a 10 peso coin. I get to the main gate and there is a big jeepney station right next to it. Here I have to change into a different vehicle. These guys have their regular routes just like buses, a very similar concept pretty much everywhere I've been since St. Petersburg over a year ago. At the long distanct bus station people offer me taxi rides to Manila for 500 pesos but I take a regular over-land bus for 120. Much cheaper and more interesting than the offical airport bus.
Manila seems huge, well there are about 10 million people here. We spend about an hour on a wide freeway through the city. From the bus terminal I take an elevated city train to Malate, a central area with bars, restaurants, hotels and some guest houses. The first one I check has okay rooms on the 4th floor, but it is not cheap and pretty empty. The next one I visit is the Pension Natividad, which is in an old building and just feels right. I check into a dorm, the first one since Singapore in May. The bed is 350 pesos (about $7), not really cheap but it's clean and friendly and there are also several other people around. It is not as polluted as I expected it to be and there aren't that many tourists around here either. I take my first stroll through the neighbourhood, once again I turned down several opportunities to buy Rolex watches and meet 'lovely young girls' Most of the time it's guys asking you on the street but sometimes the girls come up to you themselves. At least here they are real girls, in Malaysia they were all guys, well I'm not quite sure what they were and I had no intentions to find out.
During the following days I would walk around town exploring several different parts of it. My place was only one block away from the waterfront of Manila bay, but the water was extremely dirty. The most touristy area in Manilia is Intramuros, a walled old city from the Spanish times which is still very much intact and hosts several universities and churches. There are also some parks and grand public buildings but most of time it was more the people and the street life my interest was targeted on.
Why don't I have any photos of the Philippines and Malaysia? My camera stopped working pretty much the day I left Singapore, I looked around for a new one in Kuala Lumpur but couldn't make up my mind and didn't buy a one, stupid me.

I was in touch with some local indiepop kids via email and when I checked my email in the evening of the second day I had a message from Melanie telling me that her band was playing tonight. The venue would be a Japanese restaurant in the central business and shopping district of Makati. It was after 8 and I wasn't sure about the local customs (in Japan gigs start as early as 6:30) so I took a taxi to Makati City. This place is very different from the rest of the town, tall financial business and hotel buildings and several huge shopping malls interconnected with each other so that the shoppers don't have to leave the air-conditioned space for hours. I found the restaurant in question but the guys at the door didn't know anything about 'bands'. I investigated further and expected some room in the back where the bands would play. Yes there would be some music later in the evening, but not before 11. So I walk around the area a little more, the Glorietta shopping mall is just massive. I also roam around a bit in the five-star Shangri-La hotel. While browsing through the menu of one of their fancy restaurant I have a conversation with the door-lady about local food and she recommends the restaurant downstairs where they serve some Filipino dishes. I explain to her that local to me means eating on the street and she is shocked. Back to the Zen Restaurant were people still have their dinner but some folks are already setting up a stage. I choose a table near the stage and order a fruit shake which turns out to be quite nice. I talk to some people and learn that this is actually a birthday for a girl who is also leaving the country tomorrow to live in London for a year. So I congratulate her and we talk about London a little bit. They play 'The Railway Children' on the p.a., so there must be some people with a good musical taste here. A bit later Melanie and Arni two girls decide that the only western guy in the place must be Peter Hahndorf and ask me for confirm their assumption. We sit together and I am introduced to more people. It's pretty loud though as the bands have started playing. There are at least six bands and most of them are okay but Moscow Olympics, they band Melanie plays bass in is the only indiepop band. I quite like them but the sound isn't very good tonight. At around two a.m. I take a taxi to get back to the guest house.

They next day I do more sightseeing but also spend some time at the pension, I met a few people, a Dutch girl and an older black American guy Andy who are playing domino all the time at the tables in the garden. There is also another American guy David, who was actually born in Cambodia and now lives in Rangoon in Burma and speaks several of the South East Asian languages, he has his own translation business and spends most of his time in the internet cafe around the corner. I also meet a bunch of westerners who teach English in the provinces and are just visiting the capitol. They street food here is more American and there aren't really that many local food stalls as in all the other countries of the region. Every corner seems to have a burger place and there are also some local fast-food chains serving some mixture of Asian food.
Melanie and friends are putting on a gig on Saturday the 23rd and I want to be back to Manila for that, which leaves me with 10 days to get and see the country. There are several options for me, I checked some of the travel agents for flights to the Islands further away. The really nice beaches and nature attractions are a long way from Manila. I decided not to fly which leaves me with two options, going north to the 'world-famous' rice-terraces or south to an Island and its beaches. On Thursday morning I had decided for the south and was walking towards a bus station, at least that's what I thought. My backpack should have been a bit lighter because I left several things in Singapore but I had picked up two heavy IT books, one at the conference in Kuala Lumpur and one very cheap here in Manila. Everybody I asked for the bus station sent me into a different direction. In the end I just boarded a long-distance bus at the side of the road underneath one of the huge fly-over systems they have here.
The bus was cheap enough and after a few hours we reached Batangas, a port town at the south coast of Luzon Island. I booked a ferry ticket to Puerto Galera on Mindoro Island, but had to wait 90 minutes. So I walked around the town a bit spending most of my time outside a school where dozens of kids tried their limited English on me which was fun.
Even thought the whole northern part of Mindoro Island is called Puerto Galera I arrived at a place called Sabang, there is no pier but here, they small boat get close to the shore and after a few steps through the water I reach the beach. There are three inhabited bays around Sabang, the main one in Sabang has all the shops, clubs and restaurant as well as the road up to the rest of the island, the next one, Small La Laguna is much quieter and has some resorts and shops, the third one Big La Laguna is the quietest with only half a dozen resorts. It also has the best beach of the three bays and after looking around a bit I check into a cheap place. My bungalow is right on the beach with view onto the sea. Even though I only planned to stay here for a night or two and then move onto other parts of the island, I ended up staying for 8 nights. This was for several reasons, it was quiet, I had a nice cheap place right on the beach, the area has nice and a short walk away I had various options for food and if I had wanted it entertainment.
Most people come here for scuba diving as there are many coral reefs in the area. I thought about it but in the end stuck with snorkelling for several days which was really cool, even though I'm sure diving would be even better.
On the second night I had dinner in a small restaurant in Small La Laguna, there was only one other guy in the place and we started a conversation. It turned out he owns the place as well a dive shop next door. His name is Martin Mueller and is in his 50s, he is German but left over 20 years ago to set up shop here. We had a long talk and when he learnt about me being a software guy he started asking some questions. One thing let to another and for the next few days I was working on his web sites to allow people to get dynamic quotes for his diving trip and associated costs such as transportation from the airport and hotel rooms. It was interesting for me because I had to use a programming language I've never used before and I learnt a few things. In exchange I was having most of my meals at his restaurant and the food was certainly some of the best on the island. My usual day was split into four activities; sitting on the beach reading books, snorkelling, writing software with a nice view over the ocean and eating good food along with a cold beer.
I also did some trips inland, one day I walked the 20 kilometres to White Beach which wasn't as nice as everybody was saying. Several times I had massages on the beach, your should always make sure to stay in public and that all you want is really a massage unless you get 'something else'. Talking about girls. One day I came back to my bungalow and right in front of it were 13 young Filipino women having a birthday party on the beach. When it started to rain I invited them onto my porch and we partied together. It turned out they were all from Metro Manila and were here working as dancers in one of the discotheques in Sabang. Not that anybody ever went there to listen to music. Apparently they girls there would wear even less than on my porch right then, and that wasn't very much at all. The whole sex tourism was one thing that was the only really annoying thing in the Philippines. All the old big Western guys with their young tiny Filipino girlfriends, in my book this is just wrong. One of the clubs was called 'The village disco', probably only funny for the Germans among you as a 'Dorf Disco' is a German term for the unsophisticated clubs in the countryside for the local farmer youth.
Another day I did walk over some of the hills to over bays, the whole area is very hilly and one has great view over the island and the ocean from the top. The few locals I saw were really friendly, it seems they are not spoiled by tourism yet, as are the ones in the main villages who always want to sell you something. The weather was very good too and even though the rainy season had started there was only one rain shower the whole week while every evening I could see heavy thunderstorms over on Luzon, the 'mainland'.

I left Mindoro the same way I got there, on a small boat that can carry about 25 people. Because I had the whole day to get back to Manila I decided to stop on the way. So rather than a single bus trip I took two rides on buses plus five on jeepneys. The place I stopped was the Los Banos, a vast university campus at the foot of another volcano. I spent an hour at the IRRI Rice museum, the whole university is concentrating on agriculture and this institute is specialized in rice research, hence the museum which was quite interesting. It cover various aspects of this most important food in South East Asia.
Back in Manila I checked back into the Pension Natividad and in the evening met up with Melanie, Arni and a few others for a nice dinner in a restaurant in the Greenbelt mall, another one of those huge malls in Makati. It was great being with some locals.
The next day, Saturday was day of the 'I killed a party' 'festival', the venue was somebody's empty house with a big lounge room and a yard right next to it, Melanie and Arni were still setting things up, so I went for local fast food with Mario who was responsible for all the indiepop content on the 'Pinoy Central' site back in the early 2000s and Dino of Moscow Olympics. There wasn't really a need for food as they had free snacks and beer at the house. I met several new people including the blogger C86eric. There were eight bands in total and once again my favourite one was Moscow Olympics, but The Fantasy Lights and Joaquin Esquivel were also great to watch.

I had time until Friday when I would return to Singapore and considered going up north to the rice terraces but decided to stay in Manila because it was about an day and half on the bus each way, which meant I would spend most of the time in a bus, and it's not that I haven't seen any rice terraces before on this trip. So during the day of the remaining days I explored the city a bit more, the huge mall like the 'Mall Asia' with 790 shops and some less touristy neighbourhoods. I also spend more time in Intramuros, the old Spanish quarter. I found decent shakes on the street, not quite as good as in Cambodia but very refreshing.

On Tuesday night I was invited to a dinner party at Toti Dalmacion's house, in Makati, just north of the business district. Fancy high rise apartment building with a door man. Mario and his wife were there to. Toti's wife and their young son were present as well. It was a really enjoyable evening and as usual the topics of our conversation centered around indiepop and my travels. Toti runs one of the few indie labels in the Philippines and used to run the top record shop in town. We spend some time in his music room with was filled with vinyl on all four sides. I had a look at Ricky Gervais (the guy from The Office) 12" when he was in the new romantics 80s band 'Seona Dancing'. (video on YouTube) This was big in the Philippines, lots of 80s new wave stuff was big in Philippines. I had no idea, and had never heard of Seona Dancing before.
Wednesday night I went to see '???' one of Toti's bands. They played at a Toyota motor show pavilion to give those guests some entertainment. Like in Indonesia, indie music is much more interwoven with Sponsors and bigger businesses, if was interesting but they hot girl posing next to all the cars were a bit irritating.

Another day I spend several hours buying a new pair of travel pants, I love my NorthFace ones and wanted a new pair of them. Manila has at least four NorthFace shops and I visited them all. This meant travelling from one huge mall to another. My old ones were size L and I found them in a shop in the Mall of Asia, but I had lost 17 KG or so and even fit tightly into an S, however no one had the M I thought would fit best. In the end I found them in a department store. There cost pretty much the same as in London, those kind of products are not cheaper here.

Local records however are. I bought a few things, they don't have any good indie stores anymore but both Tower Records and Music Stop?? have a good selection of indiepop from the 90s including some Marsh Marigold releases who must have found their way here via Japan. Not much from the last few years though.

On Thursday morning I go to an internet café but we are loosing power every few minutes and after a while it is gone completely. Outside the strong rain has turned into a heavy storm and the guys from the café inform me that this is a typhoon named 'Milenyo'. We are watching people on their bicycles or on their feet being blown away. When it got a bit quieter I walk over to the Robinson shopping mall which still has electricity because it runs its own generators. But after another hour it also shuts down I guess because it runs out of gas, there are using a lot of electricity in a mall. Everybody get kicked out into the open where the typhoon is now even worse. The night before this I had discovered that I had faulty batteries and the camera was okay, so there I took some photos of this storm. Walking is very hard especially into the direction the wind blows from. In addition to the very heavy rain, the wind blows sand and dirt from the roads through the streets. You also see all kinds of other smaller objects flying around and I have to be pretty careful to avoid getting hit by anything. Lots of shop signs and other parts of buildings are coming down, but it is the trees that suffer the most damage. When I get to my guest house the huge tree next to here completely came down and blocks the whole street. After a few hours at the common area in the guest house I go out again because the typhoon has passed through and there is now only some light rain. I go down to the waterfront where the waves still hitting hard against the short. I also walk around the town, people are starting cleaning up the mess. I see dozens of roads that are completely blocked due to fallen trees. The whole of Taft avenue and the surrounding streets were turned into a huge lake. On the EDSA express way on of the huge billboard tower collapsed and buried a bus beneath it killing at least the driver. Over 150 people were killed by the typhoon that day.
This was my last evening and I had planned a farewell dinner with Melanie in Makati. But with no power the electric city trains were not running so I had to seek alternative transportation. I manage to ride on a jeepney into the right direction for some time but then had to walk for another 45 minutes through the dark. The highrises in Makati are visible in the distance and lead me the way, the must have their own generators. I couldn't even call Melanie to check whether she could make it, the few public telephones and even most of the mobile phones didn't work. Luckily she was at our meeting point in front of Tower Records and we had nice Italian dinner. We were actually very lucky to find a place that was still open. This was at the Glorietta mall which itself had closed, but a few restaurants around it were still open. I manage to speak to Mario on the phone, he was suppose to come down as well but he and his wife had to move into a hotel as at home there was no power and therefore no air condition. Goodness! I never had any air condition the whole time I was in the Philippines. I enjoyed the dinner with Melanie and took a taxi back home through the dark city.

The next morning there is still no power and at my guest house we still have no running water. I don't even know whether my flight would even leave but had no way of calling the airline. I made my way to a bus station in a jeepney and in the bus we stuck on the EDSA free way for over an hour because of the collapsed billboard towers. Only one of four lanes was open. I managed to get to Clark airport in time and was a bit sad to leave so soon. The Philippines are a special, in some respects very different from other South East Asian countries and I only touched the surface. I will be back some day.