Though I left life in Manila behind about a year ago now, I have spent many years in this behemoth of a city. Recently, I’ve been spending months at a time in Sydney, and what a contrast that is.
For quite some time, I’ve had a post bobbing in drafts titled “Things I Love About Sydney” but I still haven’t gotten around to writing it. Perhaps because it’s so obvious.
Yes, Sydney is a beautiful (and expensive) city, what with its beautiful parks and beaches and picturesque points, and it’s been a pleasure staying here.
However, re-experiencing life in Manila last month has inspired me to write about this swelling metropolis instead.
In the past, I wrote about the struggle to survive in Manila and revisited a few remarkable memories. Now, I’d like to write about things to love in Metropolitan Manila.
1. Warm Greetings
From the thick, warm blanket of air that wraps it’s welcoming arms around you when you first step out of the airport to the hospitable nature of its people, Manila sure knows how to give a warm welcome.
2. The Slow Life
Life meanders here at about the same pace as the traffic along EDSA and it’s certainly not a place for the impatient. However, there is something quite enjoyable about settling into the slow pace–certainly for awhile, at least.
3. The Cheerful Optimism of the Happy-Go-Lucky
Years ago I did some work as a language assessor for BPO companies and every other Filipino candidate I interviewed described themselves, word for word, as “happy-go-lucky”.
I found it quite amusing at the time but, truthfully, the easygoing nature of Manila locals is quite a pleasant contrast compared to how people can be in other parts of the world.
One of my favorite Tagalog expressions is bahala na si Batman or “leave it up to Batman”. Indeed, Filipinos are so relaxed and optimistic about the future that they don’t even need to leave it in God’s hands: Batman will do.
3. The Abundantly Friendly (and Surprisingly Ever Unserious) Nature
A former manager and fellow foreigner once told the story of being mugged in Paranaque–one of Metropolitan Manila’s seventeen cities, located just south of the CBD.
It was late and he was on his way home from work when two young men approached with what I believe was a knife and asked for his money. He was tired after a long day and told them woefully that he had nothing on him. The muggers showed such pity that they apologized for the disturbance before going on their way.
Honestly, when people ask me if Manila is dangerous, stories like this often come to mind. That’s not to say you can’t get in trouble–certainly, you must be vigilant–but more often than not I have found the nature of Filipinos too innately friendly and accommodating to warrant fear of confrontation.
If you asked me who the most serious people in the world are, I’d probably say airport security. Yet, in the Philippines, they’re still friendly enough to comment “Nice hair!” during a pat down.
In truth, Filipinos can make light of just about anything, from airport security checks to devastating typhoons.
4. The Spirit of Bayanihan
No, it’s not a ghost. Bayanihan would more or less translate to the value of extending a helping hand without expecting anything in return. It is best embodied in the picture of a whole house carried on the shoulders of a group of neighbors.
I’ve never seen my neighbors carry a house but I have had a total stranger pick up my motorcycle and carry it to a mechanic for me when it broke down on me. In fact, I’ve never needed more roadside assistance in the Philippines than the Filipinos on the roadside.
On another occasion, trying to find the way back to Manila on dark and unmarked roads after a trip out of town, the car ended up in a ditch. Stranded and hours from home with a baby in the car and little else, my companion and I had all of two minutes to worry about what we were going to do before people starting crawling out of the woodworks, so to speak, and lifting our car out of the hole.
They were gone as quickly as they had appeared. Bayanihan, indeed.
5. The Vegetarian Challenge
Nowhere in the world has the struggle to be vegetarian (for the past six months or so) been as real as in Manila.
The local diet is built on pork and seafood, with a side of chicken and beef, and lots of rice. When I asked for vegetarian dishes on the menu at one Filipino restaurant, I was pointed to one small plate vegetables.
Though, in the spirit of optimism, the quest for vegetarian food in Manila makes for quite a fun challenge.
I became vegetarian earlier this year before going back to Europe. In Holland, it was easy; in Luxembourg, doable; back in Australia, fantastic. (It’s almost like meat doesn’t exist in Newtown anymore.) In Manila, on the other hand, it’s been quite the opposite.
Still, it has drawn me out of a comfort zone and into new experiences. I’ve even discovered a couple of great all-vegetarian/vegan restaurants that serve plant-based versions of Filipino favorites such as sisig and adobo.
6. The Pleasure of a Cold Beer at a Low Price
Last but not least, there is nothing quite like an icy cold San Mig on a hot Manila day. This local beer will cost you a dollar at many establishments and set you back no more than three bucks at even the swankiest venues.
It’s an easygoing beer and surprisingly good for the price. In addition to the light and pale Pilsen, you can find the far less easygoing Red Horse (read: crazy beer) at about the same price. Only for the brave (read: crazy).