Saturday, 7 March 2009

A Thriller In Manila

I arrived late afternoon in the seething cauldron of humanity that is Manila. Travelling extremely light, courtesy of the idiots at Malaysian Airlines; they'd forgotten to stick my bag on the plane, and it was still in Melbourne. How hard is it to stick a bright red bag on a plane? I wasn't surprised, I'd had a right palava at the airport, as I didn't have an onward ticket out of the Philippines. They don't half try and make travel difficult. I had to buy a refundable one.Out of the airport in a cab, into the unknown again. The traffic and pollution here is horrendous. While stopped in traffic, a few youths approached the car, and the driver urged me to lock the door quickly. "Dangerous?" I asked. I received a cackle in reply "Welcome to Manila, my friend." Why thankyou.

Rich and poor mingle in this city. People wander past families sleeping in doorways, while a few steps away there are others spending a fortune on a meal. I've not seen anywhere like it. After the cocoon that is Australia, it was Culture Shock time again. Wandering the streets of Malate, light fading, and everywhere seemingly full, certainly sharpened the senses. Need to get streetwise again, before the street gets wise to me. The sight of armed guards outside most shops and every bank did little to calm the nerves, and with some relief, I found a place to stay. The room was 14 quid a night, and the cockroaches were included. The staff are always looking for tips...the security guard insisted on carrying my small 25 litre rucksack to my room, despite my attempts to wrestle it off him; he had a shiny gun. And did he think he was going to tip him for it? Not unless you want to stick that shooter up my nose, sunshine? He probably did as I closed the door on his blank face.

I got my head together and went for a wander, stashing anything worth nicking in the hotel safe. The hassle starts as soon as you step outside. I don't want a watch. Or a book. Or sunglasses. And certainly not a hooker. It's incessant. As for the ladyboys, they stalk the area and follow you. One girl (suspected) followed me into the mall. "Hey, I saw you earlier" she said. You and a million others, love. I tried shaking her off, going in allsorts of shit shops where the staff eyed me like she was actually with me, me being some sort of Sex Tourist. I lost patience and moved a bit quicker, almost breaking into a run. "Hey, wait for meeeee" she cried, tottering along on her heels. I died with embarrassment when she actually fell over. being the gentleman I am, I had to go back and help her up. Suitably embarrasssed herself, she took the hint and disappeared.

There's a great little place on Adriatico Street, Erra's, where the food is good and you can watch the seedy goings-on with a 40p beer. Hookers are everywhere, any girl on the street is hustling. One kept smiling at me and pulling faces. I laughed back, and she wandered over. "I see you. You are always smiling." I told her I was a pretty happy person. I knew what she was after, but made conversation...it can be boring on your own. I bought her a Coke. After making sure I finished my beer before going to the bathroom, I came back and ordered another. She had half-filled her glass and offered me the rest from the bottle. I was suspicious after her persistent questioning of me, where am I staying and the like. Smiling, I tipped the rest of the Coke into her glass "That's OK...you drink it, eh?" She didn't touch it. Trying to drug and rob me, are you love?

I had a futher, more sinister experience in Intramuros, the old walled city built by the Spanish. Taking photos, I was approaced by three well-dressed characters. Two women, one bespectacled man. They asked the usual questions: Are you alone?; Where are you from?; Where do you stay? I fended them off with brief (untruthful) answers. They walked alongside me, back in the direction they'd been. Insisted on showing me the church and said I should see the wall. They told me that they were doctors and a schoolteacher. Trustworthy professions, naturally. Alarm bells had been ringing already. They said they were on holiday, and lived in Manila. I wondered why anyone would spend a day's holiday in such a crappy tourist spot. I played along. The next suggestion was seeing Chinatown, but I declined. Not interested. We walked along the wall, and they offered to take a photo of me. I said I'd rather have one of them, if they wouldn't mind? Wait til I upload it, I nearly wet myself laughing...they looked very uncomfortable. I suspected the Police would be interested in seeing it. One of them stepped out of shot as I took it. They'd offered to take me to Banaue with them, as the coach journey would be long and uncomfortable; I asked for one of the womens' numbers and said I'd call in the morning, pointing out that it was a fine coincidence they were going to the same place the very next day. The other two had wandered off without saying Goodbye; certainly not as friendly as before, I thought. Heart pounding at the sheer audacity of these people, I made my way from them as quickly as possible. The thoughts of what happens to people who fall for these ruses...a drugged drink followed by a headache and a realisation you've been cleaned out...made me quite angry. I dialled the number she'd given me, the dead tone confirming my suspicions.

I spoke to a couple of American sailors from a research ship that evening, and they said I'd been wise to escape from those people. Apparently the area is known for it. The fuckers will have to be up a bit earlier in the morning to catch an ex-Hackney resident out. I'm just using the Philippines as a warm-up for the hazards of South America.

Further mortification the same night. I'd had a few in Erra's and wandered off to escape the attentions of a disgusting-looking ladyboy. He couldn't have looked more masculine if you'd put him in a steel helmet and covered him in coal dust. So Butch follows me to this next bar. I groaned as it sat beside me at the bar. "You are handsome. I like you." I had my head in my hands by now, politeness fast on its way out of the window. The barmaids giggled. "Look, mate...I'm not interested." He would not relent, so I downed my beer, winked at the barmaid, and fucked off. I set off at a fast pace down the street, and he ran after me "Hey, heeeyyyy...HEY YOU. I SUCK YOUR COCK FOR FREE." Oh my fucking Christ...have these people no shame?

6 comments:

midnite said...

i feel sad for my country...

old8oy said...

Don't, Midnite. Once you get out of Manila, it's great. And as for the robbery attempts...it could happen to anyone in a more developed country. Just the way things are, I guess. The Philippines need more international aid, and less corruption from the people entrusted to spend it.

rinabelly said...

thing is, Malate is known as the red light district, so no surprises about the harassment really. however, what does surprise me is that area is a bit like shoreditch, with artists choosing to live there. can't believe you didn't bump into anyone at all who was vaguely more civil or helpful as am sure you had an audience. tut.

old8oy said...

There were plenty of interesting people there...had a few good chats. Just some lunatics dressed as women which seemed to be the problem...

carlosceldran said...

hi there! I actually work in Intramuros. I do tours of the area and those guys really have been ruining business...

My name is Carlos Celdran, I have a blog about Manila and Intramuros. It would be great if you could send me the picture of these characters to my email address on my blog?

I would like to keep a lookout for these guys.

I hope to hear from you soon.

old8oy said...

Hi Carlos. You know a friend of mine I believe, Rina Atienza from London? I've just seen your comment, having looked for that shot this evening. I'll mail it to you right now, I was tempted to pass it onto police, myself...but didn't think they'd care? I had a trouble-free walk around Intramuros this visit (May 10)...will pop in for a chat next time. Cheers!