Though this is only my second time to the Philippines, there’s something very special about coming here. Kelvin’s grandparents live in Manila, in what I think of as a Chinese-Filipino fortress in the heart of the slum district, in the same complex as virtually all his extended family. It’s home for us whenever we come here.
If someone were to ask us to describe what we like when we travel, we’d say a combination of good food, interesting sights, and modern amenities. We don’t travel to developing countries often, but when we do, I’ll be honest, we get a pretty sterilized version of the place. We stick to “safe” neighbourhoods and westernized environments. One thing I love about visiting Manila is that this is not the case. We get to live more like locals. We still see things at an arm’s length, from the comfort of an air-conditioned, chauffeured vehicle, but if you look out the window, you are hit with the stark reality of what life looks like for many others.
The squatter district we pass most often is not far from the compound, opposite the ports. Laundry hangs outside homes of scrap metal, cardboard and fabric. Garbage spills out its sides, and scantily clad (and sometimes naked) children run in groups along the streets. Waterways are littered with trash and little streetside shacks serve as the barangay’s eateries, pharmacies, and local hangouts.
Transportation is comprised of a mix of cars, taxis, rickshaws and jeepneys. Traffic here makes gridlock in North America look like a breeze, and rules of the road don’t really exist. When you’re stopped, people come up to the cars and tap on the windows to sell you things.
But perhaps the most distinct qualities of all in Manila are its colourful neighbourhoods and its sense of community. Taking pictures here are a joy, as the city is saturated in technicolor and life oozes from its every pore. People fill the streets. Children gather around makeshift basketball nets. Women give each other pedicures on the sidewalks. And even abroad, there’s an unmistakeable sense of comradery between fellow Filipinos. It’s a warm place in every sense of the word.
There are many places in Metro Manila that we have yet to visit, but now that I’ve been here twice, I think I have a better general lay of the land. With a population of more than the entire country of Canada, it’s no small city, but we are slowly carving out a sense of place in this wonderful urban jungle.