One of our last destinations that we considered dangerous was Manila, the capital of Philippines. According to the statistics, the number of murders committed by firearms is one of the World’s highest.
Nevertheless, during our stay we have never experienced any violent happenings. What can be experienced though is the poverty. We haven't seen so many homeless since we left behind cracolandia in Sao Paulo. There were around 50 people sleeping on the street, right in front of the fast-food restaurant we had dinner at the first night. There are also a number of jobs created just to have jobs: there are people opening the door for you, people sitting all day long in the elevator pushing the buttons for you, people serving extra rice in case you want more, etc. The economic situation also forced a lot of people to seek jobs outside the country. In fact this phenomenon is so common, that the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), have their own queue at immigration, and they are greeted with a huge “Welcome home, OFWs, thank you for the hard work!” poster, once heading to the city from the airport. Currently there are around 11 million Filipinos living abroad, and their remittances represent some 13% of the country's GDP.
Another characteristic feature of the city is the omnipresence of the so-called Jeepneys. These are minibuses for public transport, but their shape is reminiscent to the original American Jeep. They are the equivalents of the Colombian corrientes, and they are also decorated in a similar colorful, attention seeking way. Don’t be surprised to see a Jeepney with a Darth Vader Lego figure painted on it (this is already mind-blowing), and at the same time having some generic wisdom, like “God is good” scribed on the side. You hop on and hop off at the back side, indicated by a de-facto standard “Welcome” text above the entrance.
The other popular form of transportation is the tricycle. In the center of Manila this can be foot pedal operated, but most other locations feature motorbike mounted tricycles. Passenger capacity of them can be up to an amazing 6 people.
The language is one of the funniest features of the Philippines. First of all English is so commonly used, that you will have no problems getting around in the cities: everything is written in English and everyone speaks some sort of English. In fact the Filipino or Tagalog language is so much mixed with English (the mix also referred to as Taglish), that when we were listening to the speech of the Prime Minister during the anniversary of the People Power revolution, we could pretty much understand half of what he said.
Apart from English, the language also has a lot of influence from the Spanish colonizers. Don’t be surprised to hear “Kamusta?” (Como estas?), “Keso” (Queso) or “Kabayo” (Caballo).
Besides all these, the average Filipino tends to mix “b” and “v” (a Spanish heritage) and “p” and “f”, resulting in funny words like “pood” (food), “pree” (free) or “passion show” (fashion show). To temporarily brain-damage a Filipino, throw a word like “photography” to him and watch him struggling with different versions of pronunciation until he settles with one version, but never really sure if it’s the right one.
Filipinos, like most Southeast-Asians are crazy about karaoke. Everyone owns at least one karaoke equipment at home and even the shy ones grab all the opportunities to step up in public places and show their skills. Karaoke bars (often called KTV) however are not always karaoke bars. If you enter and 10 young girls greet you and offer their company to sing with you, you can be sure there is some kind of prostitution going on. In fact, some KTV bars don’t even have a karaoke equipment.
Regarding the food, we came across a number of special places in Manila. Jollibee is the local fast food chain, which serves low quality dishes with rice. McDonalds also serves burgers with rice, instead of fries and another place (Inasal) offers unlimited rice refill for your main dish. The local ice cream specialty is the halo-halo, which is a mixture of shaved ice and evaporated milk, with added sweet beans and fruits, served in a tall glass or bowl. A typical street-food favorite is the balot: from the outside looks like a standard boiled egg, but inside there is already a chicken embryo. I tried it: the taste is not that bad (like boiled chicken meat, but more chewy), but the sighting of the embryo can be troublesome:)
The nose pulling. This is a custom we haven't met yet in other parts of Southeast Asia, so it’s worth describing: pregnant women tend to come up to people with bigger noses (especially non-Asians), and pull their noses. They do this in the hope of having their future baby a nice, big nose, which is considered an elite social feature:) We’ve been both nose-pulled:)
During our short visit to Manila, Lani, a local girl was guiding us around. Since she is aspiring to be a future tourist guide, I hereby recommend her as her overall factual knowledge is good and she is crazy enough to make a good company:) Lani, pass me your contact details!:)