Monday, March 4, 2013

Part 1: Short Holiday to Manila

Travel and lifestyle posts will now be an occasional feature in my blog... So start things off, I am going to be blogging about my short 4 days Free and Easy Holiday to The Phillipines, Manila. I managed to visit a number of attractions there were close to metro Manila in the short time I was there. The aim of these posts will be to hopefully to help travellers and fellow Singaporeans to have some picture of what's going on in these places and how I conquered these places the "Baktao" style!... These posts will be personal, non commercial and "home-made" in the sense that it will probably mean loads of bias posts and thoughts on certain issues but the beauty is that it comes straight from my very heart.... Awwww

After some basic online and library research on "What to do in in Manila", "Things to do in Manila", "Attractions to visit in Manila" and so on... I finally had a list of potential places to visit. It's good to note that travel books like lonely planet were now sort of defunct although maps are still very useful. A good way to plan your travel would be to use Google Maps to estimate the distance from point to point.

Attractions like food, cultural/historical landmarks and volcanoes, lakes etc were top of my list.

The list was something like that...

1) Taal Volcano
2) Fort Santiago and Intramuros
3) Manila Seafood Dampa
4) Balut
5) Corregidor Island
6) Rizal Shrine
7) Manila Cathedral

I briefly had these places in mind and my plan was to head down to Manila first before seeing how I could make my list a reality. After all, what's the point of planned traveling? Ever since my last Bangkok trip, last minute stop dash travel planning on the go seemed to agree with me. So I started my Manila trip without booking any sort of accomodation and left it to my imagination on how my trip would pan out...

Back to the reason why I was actually going to Manila... My purpose of travelling to unconventional Manila (for a Singaporean)  was actually last minute. I wanted to visit my ex domestic helper or maid from Phillipines at her home town. She has since retired from being a maid at Singapore after looking after me for 22 years. I had purchased a ticket for her to visit Singapore too so my motive was actually to fetch her to Singapore for a holiday as well. Travelling solo to the Phillipines, making new friends and not knowing each day held was a humbling experience I would never regret as I experienced the Pinoy way of life, culture, food and living. I felt tiny there as I shared food, shared a slum couch, drank beer with the locals, squat by a roadside stall eating some fried roadside food... Amazing time there.

At Singapore Airlines Departure Hall
The first interesting bit of my solo travel actually started at the Singapore Airlines departure gates as I found out from the Filipino Immigration declaration card that you could only take 10,000 pesos into Phillipines and that was strange as this was only about $320 SGD. I am pretty sure many travellers including Singaporeans would actually change foreign currency at their own country before heading for a holiday. There were no checks when I cleared Filipino customs though and I realised that the exchange rates at Manila were better than those back in Singapore (37 pesos to 1 SGD compared to 31 pesos to 1 SGD at home). Conclusion? Dear travellers, just change your currency in the Phillipines or get your pesos from the ATMs! Additional Tip? Change at money changers further away from the Airport to get generally better rates!

Meeting Levis
I was greeted by my ex maid (with a good portion of white hair and walking with a permanent limp now) with a hug at the arrival hall at night time together with her extended family. This was extremely emotional for me as standing here was someone that looked after me for 20 odd years. They were here with a taxi which belonged to my maid's brother in law. He would go on to be my driver cum tour guide during certain days. He had an interesting name... "Levis Babacho"... Yup you got it. He was named after the legendary Levis Jeans! We had a great introduction and had immediate rapport with each other. Apparently, their idea of Singaporeans (employer's of their sister in law) were that we were snobbish people who had loads of money who didn't know how to slug it the tough way!) and I had to agree with them actually... Well, they were pleasantly surprised when I began to do lots of 'Filipino' things with a very 'Kampong' style! I ate the chilli padis with them, ate and enjoyed the balut, ate the dried mangos like a bird, sang filipino songs with them, got down and dirty in the slums... You could say I was one of them! And this was really my objective of the trip... To experience.

The Introduction to Culture
Anyway, the first thing I picked up from their culture was money. Money was an important part of their life here. In fact, my nanay - means mother in Tagalog (figured I should call my maid that since well she wasn't my maid anymore) and her sister were not happy as they had forgotten to take the change while paying for parking. It was not suprising that they were not living well and that the going was tough for them. In fact to put it bluntly, my nanay's family probably thought I was some walking ATM. I was not invisible to this fact though and I brought extra SGD and of course I had my ATM card with me... It was only polite that I probably should pay any extra costs like petrol that was incurred by me. And of course, I made Levis happy for his few days of driving me around and losing his working income for those few days. These costs were evident during my trip as I paid for the meals (they couldn't afford a normal meal at a decent restaurant), attractions tickets and so on... Halfway through my trip though, I had somehow "won" over their hearts and souls. And whatever these humble people could offer me, they offered me willingly and we would share what we had. That was the single best experience of my life so far - to blend in and be accepted into a difficult culture.

Brief Stay
The first stop of my trip would be the Marikina Hotel in which my maid had arranged accomodation for me since I had not much plans. We discussed about the proabability of heading to the province but since it was a 18 hours ride, it would be better to stay near metro Manila so I could visit places like Taal Volcano and Intramuros.

Marikina Hotel in the morning...

Very basic room and bed
Cost breakdown
The shower. A luxury according to my Nanay

Suprise Suprise Korean Drama has caught up with the Pinoys... It's K Drama in Tagalog!
The city of Marikina is actually considered to be the "Shoe Capital" of The Phillipines as it produces a good majority of the Shoes from Phillipines. What got me excited was that Levis made a passing comment about his sons owning a "Shoe Factory" which turned into a promise! He'd bring me to see the "Shoe Factory" during my stay! My little getaway to Manila would have a touch of educationa in addition to taking in the cultural sights and sounds! It was my sort of thing to explore, to experience and to build up new knowledge!

It was an acceptable stay by my standards. We had 3 beds, a working but old air con set, old TV and shower. I was pleasantly surprised at these luxuries although the shower coughed like an old man at first! Nanay and her daughter weren't that pleased though as they reckoned it was expensive... I would later on stay at the slums with them as to save money - something that I was really looking forward to.

Looking Forward
It wasn't such a good time to be a Chinese in The Phillipines but I looked malay or filipino anyway! In fact, I "acted" Filipino at the hotel counter while my Nanay went along with flawless tagalog. The better part of the night was spent packing and catching up with my ex maid who was now already 58 years old. It was a nostalgic heart to heart talk and it was kinda of surreal that an ex maid and her "boy boy" could have such a moment together. It was the stuff of dramas!

The plan for the next day and Part 2? To visit the Spanish Colonial town of Intramuros where the famous Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago resided in!

This post was dull as I didn't snap much pictures but I promise the next one will be full of pictures!

A great preview picture for the next post!

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