Flight Air Asia AK 32 left LCCTAirport in Kuala Lumpur on time, which is rare. The flight was full, surprisingly. There is no room to breath, so I spent the next three and a half hours sitting like a good boy in a strict catholic school during theology class runs by nazi nuns. It was an uneventful flight, nothing interesting. The plane touched down Clark Field airport 15 minutes before . The pilot cheerfully announced that we are actually 15 minutes ahead of time. Even he sounds surprised
A large banner greeted us at the arrival hall. "Welcome All Participants of the 1st International ClarkMarathon". No wonder the flight was full. The marathon participants were being greeted by two young girls with "Mabuhay" and "Welcome to the Philippines". Since they can’t differentiate between the actual participants and non participants, they greeted everybody, except me, obviously. Judging from my large belly, they probably assume that I haven’t been in any marathon whatsoever during the course of my entire life, which is true. There was a 12 piece welcoming band at the arrival hall. They were doing "Besame Mucho". They were very good. I can’t get that "Besame besame mucho.. como se fuera noche la vouz..etc etc" out of my head. The custom & immigration was a brisk.
I bought a one way ticket with Philtranco bus to Manila (300 pesos). The bus will drop me at SM Megamall. While waiting for the door of the bus the open, I notice the silhouette of Mt.Pinatubo in the distance. On June 15th, 1991 at 1. 42 pm, it erupted. In terms of the amount of ash it spewed, it was the 2nd largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century. There have never been any volcanic eruptions that influence the world climate so much since the eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia (erupted in 1883). ClarkAirport, where I am now, which used to be the Clark US Air Base was evacuated on June 10. The US never returned to the site since, except the two US hippies who just joined me, waiting for the same bus.
"Bus 726 to Manila ya?" They asked me. "Yeap. Waiting for the door to open" I said. "The door is already open, it is on the other side my friend. It has to do with right side driving." they continue.. "Oh" I've never felt so stupid.
It was a long two and a half hours drive to Manila. As we were approaching SM Mega mall, the traffic became bad to worse. I was told that there was a fire in Mandaluyong (the area where SM Megamall is). Some of the roads are close contributing to the massive jam. We finally reached SM Megamall around . Right side driving, ride side driving, I keep reminding myself.
Its and I was starving. The most logical thing to do is to find a food court in the mall. Just like any mall back home, you see a door, you enter. Apparently, it is not the same in Manila. There is an entrance and exit door. Before you enter any mall (or any public building I would assume), you have to pass through security. They would prod your bag with a stick and grope your groin before you are allowed in. On October 19, 2007 there was a huge explosion at Glorietta Shopping Mall in Makati. Eleven dead and 100 more injured. Even though it was later found out that it was not cause by a bomb, but due to an LNG gas tank exploded, but, terrorist threat are real. I am not sure if the extra security was the result of the Glorietta Shopping Malls blast or it has existed before that.
Before I began my journey, I've manage to set some rules on what not to do. The lists are as follows:- 1. Do not eat at any fast food joint (McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut etc ..) 2. Do not eat at a restaurant if they have blood stained on the wall. 3. Use as much public transportation as possible (except taxis) unless you have no other choice... the list goes on.
Guess what, I broke rule number one, on the first day. I had Fillet O Fish set meal at McDonnalds.
SM Megamall is a huge mall with capital H-U-G-E. It was Friday, a working day and the mall is full of shoppers. Every morning, around , before the mall opens, about 1,000 people would gather at the main lobby by the SM Megamall management. Each person is given 1000 pesos and an empty shopping bag. All they have to do is walk aimlessly throughout the day looking happy. Not a bad way to make a living. It’s a business tactics. Not really. I just made that up. These are real shoppers and with real purchases.
I took a train from Shaw Boulevard station to Taft Avenue Station. It was full with real commuters. Arrive in Taft Avenue Station in Pasay 20 mins later. The area around Taft Avenue Station was, how shall I put it, wow. It is something. What an uplifting experience.
The EDSA Station in Pasay was full with people and the station was in utter chaos. There was at least 5 long queues. I've decided to leave the station, walked a few kilometers to Libertad station. It turned out to be a long walk but very rewarding. There was a wet market between EDSA and Libertad Station stretching as far as the eye can see and when I get to Libertad Stations, it still never ends. From there, it is a short train ride to Pedro Gil Station.
Prior to coming to Manila, I've decided not to book any rooms. Rather, it would be better to find a room once you arrived. From what I have read, most of the cheap hotels for the tourist like me would be in Ermita/ Malate area. It was already dark when I arrive at Pedro Gil Station. I walked along the Pedro Gill Street. The night market was already up and running, selling touristy souvenirs and pirated dvds. I'm sure I am in the right place. The lights on the bars, nightclub and karaoke center were already up and running and the girls are already outside waiting for their customers (I mean friends).
What a big mistake it was. Malate Pensionne was the first place I went. It was full, so were any other cheap hotels within my budget. I went to Father's Guesthouse, they don’t even have a bed but the nice man at the desk (god bless him) suggested that I should go to Joward Pension House at M. Andriatico Street cause they might still have a room, which is just around the corner. When I get to Joward Pension House, I was told that they still have 1 room available, the last one at 425 pesos a night. Do I want it? Oh, Yes I do !
The room was very basic. I am not complaining but I've seen more furniture in a prison cells. That's all I am saying. Just like any other guest would do in a new hotel room. I play with the lights, open and close the faucets several times, look into its empty drawers and stole their match box and ashtrays. I took a long showers, get dressed and off I go.
Tonight, I've decided to start slow. I haven’t been sleeping for the last 2 days. I have a wonderful cup of tea at a Chinese tea shop (I can’t remember its name (sign of old age). It is near the Robinson Mall Malate. Bought some drinks at a mini shop nearby and decided to check out RobinsonMall. It has been nearly 4 hours since my groin was grope, I need another. After traveling more than 2,000 km to see another country's culture and history, I am at a mall again.
I've notice, on my first day in Manila, the city is full of young people. At the mall, trains, even the beggars and the homeless in Pasay, they were all young. Where did they hide all the old folks at? On that note, I retire, until the next day.