I had some reservations about visiting Manila, as I had heard a few rather unfavourable accounts about stays there. A friend for example shared a story about how the police arrested him just for standing in a dark alley and accused of buying drugs in order to extort a bribe. And yet contrary to Jakarta, Manila did not appear all that frightening, quite the opposite, I felt really comfortable there. The five days I’d spent there even seemed too little to fully appreciate the capital and for sure the Philippines overall. To be sure, you do get shocked by the poverty and the squalid conditions, and especially by the contrast between luxurious supermarkets and filthy streets where children sleep right on the ground. I started my tour of Manila from Intramuros, which is the old city ringed by the city walls built by the Spanish in the old colonial times.

The Southern gate of Intramuros. The walls are obviously quite impressive, practically stone-covered mountains.

The historical church of San Agustin:

A wedding ceremony was taking place inside the church. The Filipinos are very religious, the Catholic churches I visited were always full of people.

Casa Manila is another atmospheric place meant to remind of Manila’s past. Prosperous merchants’ apartments as they looked in 17th and 18th, it is meticulously researched and recreated using the period furniture.

No pictures inside, but this is the internal courtyard. The apartment is on the upper floors. As is Filipinos’ wont, a fiesta was being organised. As always.

The entrance of the fort itself. The fort occupies the North of Intramuros and is separated from the rest of the old city by a ditch and a thick wall. The headquarters of various armies used to be located here: first the Spanish colonial army, the the American army when the Philippines were under US control, then the Japanese during WWII.

A traditional dance performance in an open air café by the entrance of the fort.

The internal courtyard of the fort of Intramuros.

Nowadays everything inside the fort is focused on the story of Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines. Rizal is somewhat of a paradoxical figure. He was a writer and an intellectual who lay the grounds for the Philippine national identity and called to get rid of the Spanish colonial yoke. But when the Spanish arrested him and accused him of treason – of fomenting a rebellion against their rule – Rizal somehow categorically denied his guilt. The Spanish executed him anyway, which was oil to the fire of the rebellion, the rebellion which eventually led to the expulsion of the colonisers. The exposition in Rizal Museum is built on the idea of his innocence and victimhood. But if you think about it, there is an obvious contradiction built in there – if Rizal is innocent, who did he call for rebellion in his books? If he indeed called for rebellion – which is a treason against Spain – then why did he deny his guilt? The Spanish accusations were actually right then? But we are talking about the Philippines. Cold logic is not always king here. Emotions hold a much strong sway. The emotional truth of what happened here is pretty obvious – Rizal was a hero who died for independence.

The immediate entrance of Rizal museum right after the gate on the previous photo.

His most famous poem, written the night before his execution. In the poem he speaks of his love for his motherland. The irony is that the poem was written in Spanish – the cultural language of the Philippines at the time – but today most Filipinos cannot understand it in the original language.

You get to take a picture with Rizal and his supporters. A jacket and a hat are included to look more in style. Rizal is standing next to me. The height of the protagonists is accurate. Not very different from the height of the modern Filipinos though.

On my way back to Malate I crossed the old city. This is the main Cathedral. It was destroyed during an earthquake, the current building is a bland concrete successor of the old splendour.

As usual, a Filipino street party was taking place. It was Sunday after all!

A Sunday street market.

The main park of Manila is to the South of Intramuros, separating it from Malate.

Whose monument is the focus of the park? Rizal, obviously.

The park features a number of attractions for the people.

Even a fire show to mark the Sunday.

To be sure, Manila is not all neat and clean, this is what we see in the first metro station we enter:

Right by the gates of Intramuros, next to the mountain-like walls on the first photo. Manila is a paradise for some, but a tough spot for great many.

One thought on “Manila

  1. If I were to take a foreign freind someplace in Metro Manila, I would definitely start from Quiapo pass through various landmarks and end the tour in MOA.My reason is simple. I will try to show my freind the gradual history of our country. We will start with Quiapo to show where is the ordinary Filipino masa today. Then we go from pre-colonial times so I will show Ongpin or Chinatown. Afterwards, a tour to Intramuros to show the Spanish Colonial Era and then a tour to Taft Avenue and Rizal Park for the American Colonization. Next would be a tour to CCP for the post colonial era and the Marcos Regime. Lastly, I will show my freind MOA so that my freind can see where the Filipinos are today and at the same time my freind can compare the other side of the modern Filipinos from the ones in Quiapo.My trip would start like this. First, I will bring my guest to Quiapo Church because I believe that the Quiapo Church and the nearby Plaza Miranda is significant to us Filipinos. I will give a brief history of our culture and the relationship of the Filipinos with religion. After that we will go outside the Church and I will point out the big oxymoron in Quiapo. Doesn’t anybody find it a big oxymoron that inside the Church, everybody professes to be a Catholic but literally a stone’s throw away from the wall of the Church, there are lots of fortune tellers? So if ever, I would give my freind the choice if he or she would like to experience having a fortune telling session. This is just for the experience and just for my freind to have a clearer picture of the irony of Filipino culture. After that, I will bring my freind to Plaza Miranda and explain the significance of that small plaza: that a lot of revolutions and prayer rallies during the Marcos and pre-Marcos regime happened there. After that, I would try to feed my freind Balot or Isaw which is readily available there. If she or he refuses since Balot and Isaw is taboo in some cultures and it’s a Filipino delicacy then I’ll just suggest the Penoy, Taho or fishball. After that I would suggest shopping for about 2 hours for my freind to find bargain goods. After shopping, I would then hail a pedicab so my freind could experience a different kind of transportation which is not easily seen abroad. I would then bring us to Chinatown where I would then explain the important relationship of our country with our Asian neighbors during the pre-colonial era. I would point out the culture, arts, trade and economic ties we had with them. During our trip to Chinatown, we will use the calesa since this form of transport is still used in Chinatown and Ongpin. Afterwards, still using the calesa, I would ask us to be dropped in Intramuros where I will explain the 333 year colonial era of the Spaniards in our country and how it affects the Filipinos even now. I will then explain the importance of the walled city and the reason for its location. And I will end my explanation with the Mock Battle in Intramuros and the start of American colonization in our country. By this time it will already be lunch time so for lunch, I will treat my freind in Intramuros where an authentic Spanish dish will be our meal. After lunch, we would get a taxi going to Rizal Park. However, I will request that the driver to drive by the Manila Central Post Office then pass by the Manila City Hall and the National Museum and then he will drop us off to Rizal Park. My reason is simple. This is to continue explanation of the Philippine history and culture to my freind. Since I stopped with the start of American Colonization in Intramuros, I will then explain to my freind the significance of Rizal Park or Bagumbayan. Also, I would explain the significance of Manila Central Post Office, Manila City Hall, the National Museum and the various offices near Rizal Park. This is all part of the plan of the Americans to pattern Taft Avenue like that of Washington wherein government offices are centralized. However, with the war interrupting American Occupation all these plans did not come into fruition. After we have walked around Rizal Park, I would then bring my freind to CCP. But this time, we will use the Jeepney. When we arrive at CCP, I would point out the ferry going to Corregidor and the significance of this tiny island as well as Bataan in World War 2. Then my freind and I would roam around CCP and I would then explain post war Philippines until the Marcos era to my freind. I will show the good parts as well as the not so good parts of the Marcos regime. By this time it will already be about 6 or 7 so for our last stop, we will now use a taxi and we will go to MOA. This is to show my freind the modern Philippines and to also show my freind the 3rd largest mall in the world. For dinner, we will go to Kamayan so he or she can experience authentic Filipino food with various choices. For the rest of the night, my freind and I can go shopping. ;>

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