Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends...

I suffered the winter of my discontent; being back in London was great (bitterly cold weather aside), as far as seeing old friends and enjoying the culture goes, but I found it hard being sat behind a desk rather than on the deck of the Emily heading into Coron Bay to dive the wrecks. I love working as a designer, and it wasn't hard to slip back into it in the capital; but I'd known since Vietnam in September 2008 that my life had changed irrevocably. Diving my way around the Philippines had reinforced this and, as sad as my farewells were to the gang at Rocksteady, I knew I'd be back.

And so to the familiar streets of Manila. The city doesn't grow on you, it's not pretty enough, though this is the fault of the Japanese and American armies who fought over it in 1945. At a count of 150000, more civilians died in this battle than perished in the atom bomb strike at Hiroshima: a horrific death toll. The city, once leafy, cobblestoned streets of Art Deco architecture, was duly flattened. As it has been rebuilt, there has been no discernible city centre...and I think this is where it's problem lies. There is nowhere in this warren of streets that you feel you are in the heart of the city, and what is a city without a heart? No plazas, no squares, no parks to speak of...you never feel you have found the point it all comes together. It is a pity, as the Manilenos are, in the main, warm and friendly people...and deserving of better.

There is little of the menace or danger I felt when first arriving here last year. The place hasn't changed at all, I'm just hardened to the pressure of these streets. It's a pity my lungs haven't hardened to the excrement-riddled stench, but I instinctively hold my breath whenever approaching one of the sewer entries on the roads these days. I couldn't stifle a horrified groan as I passed a man in the street, trousers round his ankles, letting last night's dinner go. I don't have a problem with a grown man shitting on the pavement, but in broad daylight? That's just ill-mannered. To be fair to the town, it's not limited to here. My Dad recounted a tale one day a few years back. He'd been shopping in Preston, and had nipped into a bakers for a pasty. While queuing, he noticed a tramp outside the shop, squatting in the street. On standing, the man was holding his keks up with one hand while reaching inside with the other. On this Saturday afternoon in a Northern town, he then proceeded to scoop handfuls of shit from his undercrackers and flick it towards the gutter, to the open-mouthed amazement of passers-by on Friargate. Dad said that it was at this point that two women in the bakers started screaming.

The hawkers are still ubiquitous in Manila; peddling cheap watches, girls, boys and viagra. I used to give them a polite smile and shake of the head; it's not forceful enough...now the persistent get a polite Fuck off, mate. I don't like being rude, except when necessary. Honest.

Manila will never occupy a special place in my heart, but it certainly gets under your skin...the order amongst the chaos and confusion, the noise, the appalling smells, the vermin. It's an interesting place as far as the wide scope of humanity occupying it goes, an hour is easily spent nursing a drink and watching it drift by in all its forms. And, let's face it, if you want to experience the Philippines, you can't ignore it.

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