Manila, old and new

Manila, old and new

Our first time in the Philippines, so we said a quiet “kerching!” as we stepped ashore this morning.


When we first looked out of the door this morning, we caught a first glimpse of the Taal volcano and as we approached the port, found ourselves surrounded by shipping of all kinds once again.  These Asian ports are busy places.


Some sailed quite close which gave us a chance to take a look at the traditional style of fishing boat here.


I like to see these things and to wonder what life must be like when it’s spent sitting in a small boat like that for most of the day.  What do those two fishermen talk about?


A degree of concentration must be needed because they are sailing amongst some pretty huge ships.  I counted 28 from our balcony and guess there were a similar number on the other side too.


We decided it was time to get up and start our day.  No good hanging around daydreaming when there’s a new city on the horizon.


We were lucky and snagged our favourite table, so watched (and listened) as we approached our berth.  It looked like there was a bit of a welcome party!


I love arriving into a port like this, when before we even arrive my attention is grabbed by colour and, well, life.  I mentioned in yesterday’s post that a good number of the crew are Filipino and we knew that Manila was going to be a highlight for that reason alone.  Whilst we were going to be heading off into the city, we understood that more than 500 family members were coming on board to see the ship and visit sons, daughters and parents who are away from home for so long.


So there was every reason to bang a drum, do a dance and make a noise!


We left immediately after breakfast, running the gauntlet of these sweet young women, being given beads, fans/sunshades and photo opportunities galore!


Welcome to the Philippines!


Now, sadly, the light made recording the journey rather tricky; I’m sorry for the reflections on the window.  But to begin with, we passed grand buildings such as the Manila Hotel, from where General MacArthur commanded operations during WW2 and this, the government assembly building.


Before long, however, we began to see evidence of Manila’s tightly packed 19 million people and to get an idea of how they live.


We passed hospitals, many of which boasted teaching facilities and high performance grades by means of banners on the facade.


I’m not sure how much of an achievement it was to perform the first successful percutaneous mitral valve repair in the Philippines but it’s good to know Dr Timothy’s team’s success was celebrated.  What was even more interesting is that all of these signs are in English.  Our guide explained that there are so many dialects and regional languages that for many, English is the preferred means of communication.  Fascinating!


Our first stop was in the Quezon area and was a street full of large, open barbecues where normally there’d be a rank of spit roast pigs sizzling.  It being Holy Week, however, there was just the one – possibly placed to demonstrate the process for our benefit?


It being only 10 o’clock or so in the morning, it wasn’t particularly tempting, but maybe later…


Mila’s operation seemed to be a family run service and the children were playing around as their mothers sat chatting.


Across the road, the barbecue pit competition looked altogether more serious though, don’t you think?


The importance of religion in the lives of the people here was clear to see from the moment we climbed on board our coach.


I failed to get a picture of the sign “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” on the traffic lights, but here and there were similar reminders of the Catholic faith which plays a large part in the culture here.


Having passed the North Cemetery and all the related flower shops by, our next stop was to be the Chinese Cemetery, which is quite a landmark here because of the vast mausoleums built in a kind of town.


We drove through streets of these buildings, each one with a tomb inside, some with bathrooms and other facilities but actually, built simply to house the dead.


There are the usual inscriptions on the tombs, but also red and gold markers for those still living – reserved signs, effectively.


And there are simply streets and streets of these elaborate buildings, which, when we considered the cramped conditions of the people living in the areas we’d just driven through, seemed faintly ridiculous.


Down each little passageway, we could see more, slightly less lavish structures but they went on and on as far as we could see.


A few were nicely tended and showed photographs of the family members interred but surprisingly, most were dusty and didn’t seem to have been cared for terribly well.


It’s surprising too, that some choose to dump their rubbish in such a place, isn’t it?


Well, customs and culture are different the world over and maybe it’s unfair to make assumptions from a half hour visit like that.  We left the mausoleums and began our way to the next stop when we found ourselves in the middle of a funeral procession, on its way to somewhere in the cemetery.  Reminiscent of a New Orleans style event, the hearse was preceded by three bands playing solemn music and a group of professional mourners.  Alvoy, our guide said he thought the size of the procession indicated a person of some considerable wealth and as the hearse itself approached, that seemed very likely indeed.  The hearse itself was surrounded by the men of the family, each one holding a red ribbon tied to some part of the car.  Others walked behind, holding a ribbon around a group of people walking within the ribbon boundary – hard to explain and I was reluctant to take photographs of such an occasion, for obvious reasons.  All of these men were dressed identically in white and cream and I assume the women were in the cars which followed the procession – a series of large, prestigious 4x4 vehicles with similar red ribbons attached to door handles and aerials.  Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all of this, someone carried a large photograph of an elderly lady, the deceased, I assume.



Whilst we’d been at the cemetery, the clouds had come over and taking photos was a little easier, thank goodness.  So, driving through the centre of Manila, we were able to capture the hundreds (thousands?) of jeepneys which are the main means of transport here.


The streets are colourful but one thing was to be seen on almost every street: small shelters used by people living on the pavement.  The homeless people of Manila appear to be able to set up semi-permanent places for themselves and perhaps we missed an opportunity to find out more about them from Alvoy as we drove.


Though the traffic was horrendous, several side streets had been closed to traffic and games of football and basketball were taking place. 


Each traffic jam was an opportunity for someone to walk between the cars selling cigarettes (individually or in a packet), drinks, popcorn.


If there was a flat surface, even if it was on top of a storage container, then someone was possibly sleeping there, or taking a nap.


But then, we turned into Forbes Street, the Beverly Hills of Manila, and suddenly life took on a rather different appearance.


We were driving through wealthy Manila then, where high rise apartments and five star hotels line the streets and where the American Memorial and Cemetery is to be found.  Here, the remains of more than 17 000 soldiers are to be found, together with the names of 36 thousand  more, all killed in WW2. 


It’s a dignified, sobering place in similar vein to Ypres and the way in which these soldiers, sailors and airmen are commemorated is equally impressive.


There are beautifully created mosaic maps which describe the events in this part of the world.  Did I say in an earlier post that I’d never heard of the Luzon Strait?  Shame on me.


The central chapel was beautiful with rich blue mosaic tiled walls and a peaceful atmosphere, in spite of a constant flow of tourists trooping in an out.


But as always in such places, it’s not only the individual name which touches the heart


it’s the sheer numbers.

More from Manila in my next post.

Later that same day

Later that same day

Cruising the Luzon Strait

Cruising the Luzon Strait