Not all my time in Manila was spent chasing midgets and fighting drunk women, there was a bit of cultural exchange too, thanks to my dumbfound luck in meeting Gordon, a cool Filipino guy who had just enough time to kill on a Sunday.
Ryo and Akihiro were checking out of the hostel that day —perhaps motivated by the previous night antics— but still decided to tag along with Gordon and I to see some of Metro Manila’s most prominent landmarks, starting with Rizal Park.
Walking down the streets in Makati I saw a great disparity between huge buildings made of glass and more humble neighborhoods right next to each other. It’s not unlike Panama’s metropolitan area to be honest, except that the Filipino Government seems to try less to hide it.
To get to Rizal Park we had to board a tram and switch at one location, but to board the tram we walked right through one of the poor neighborhoods in town, where the sight was breathtaking:
Once at the tram station we had to make a line to pay for our ticket and then wait for the train to come over. Thankfully the stop we were at is one of the main convergence points of the tram network, so when our ride got to us a huge wave of people came rushing out of the tram and left it mostly empty.
The LRT service is a great relief for the city traffic, but still isn’t quite up to the task on a general basis due to the amount of motorbikes, tuk-tuks and jeepneys in the city. Metro Manila is huge and by huge I mean that just the LRT-1 line alone can easily transport 470,000+ on average, and that was back in 2013. Still it was nothing compared to the train we got on after making the switch.
The line that runs to Rizal Park is even more congested and now I’m standing next to Gordon and the Japanese kids in a packed train car with seemingly no way to move in any direction. Gordon tells me that on our stop I should just yell “EXCUSE ME” with a deep voice and that should clear a path for us. It also didn’t hurt that I was slightly taller than the average person in the train.
Sure enough we got off our train and people looked mighty scared of my voice on the way out. We arrived at the west end of Rizal Park to find a huge 9.5m statue of Lapu-Lapu, the first Filipino hero who defended his island near Cebu from Spaniards led by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, which he also killed in battle.
Rizal Park is also known as Luneta National Park and it is one of the largest urban parks in Asia, dedicated to the memory of José Rizal, a national hero whose execution led to the uprising of nationals against Spain and the Philippine Revolution. In his honor, there’s a monument at the east end of the park that houses Rizal’s remains.
Walking through the park we saw plenty of young groups, from boy scouts to school kids just chilling and playing without a care. There was also lots of delicious street food in the place and I treated Gordon, Akihiro and Ryo to the wonders of siu mai, a typical Chinese breakfast delicacy that I love.
From the park we walked all the way around the outer wall of Intramuros, a fortified area of the city that houses various historical landmarks like the Manila Cathedral (which we couldn’t get into because it was undergoing repairs) and Fort Santiago.
To get into the latter there’s a small fee to pay ($3 USD I think) and once you get inside you can walk around and see a park where people usually go to have picnics. Also, it’s full of statues to goof around with.
The main area that I found interesting was the Rizal Shrine, which is where many personal effects of José Rizal are gathered, including paintings, his bed, books and many other things that really gave me a sense of who the man was. Aside from being an advocate of nationalism, he was a painter, playwright, doctor, scientist, linguist and traveller who had actually been to the United States, Europe and Japan before living for a while in Hong Kong. Not shabby at all.
Right outside of the Rizal Shrine was a pass to the lookout from the fort where the Pasig River could be seen. We chilled there for a bit and then decided to head to our next destination: Mall of Asia.
Now, understand that for a guy who comes from a city where malls are a thing, my interest in checking out the mall had two purposes. The first purpose was to get my hands on some LEGO minifigs, because duh that’s what you do when you go to the mall and the second purpose was to gauge just how similar shopping culture was to Panama.
Mall of Asia
So far I’ve mentioned 2 different aspects of Filipino culture and history that overlap with my own Panamanian cultural background. Surprisingly, malls are also a big thing in Manila and yes, they are every bit as crazy and packed with all kinds of things to do, except where Panama has Albrook Mall, which is the biggest mall in the Americas, Manila has the 10th biggest mall in the world.
I thought I was ready, but I was so young back then. Mall of Asia took all I knew about malls and shredded it to pieces. It was just too big of a beast to walk in a single day because inside it had everything from an IMAX movie theatre, to an observation centre where the World Pyro Olympics were taking place. It had a concert area where Macklemore was going to play in a few days. An arena for sports and religious events, a convention center, a science center… a freaking ferris wheel.
After walking it for about an hour, we decided to head for one of the food courts in search of sustenance and the trip gradually became more interesting by way of the stuff I put into my stomach.
The first delicacy I tried was Halo-Halo, a raspao on steroids that is both beautiful and destructive in the amount of sugar it has. The one we got had dried fruits and jelly cubes thrown in first, then shaved ice, condensed milk, soft beans, crispy rice, a scoop of purple yam and evaporated milk. It fired me up real good and then I didn’t care about buying any minifigs afterwards.
Akihiro and Ryo were very impressed with the sheer amount of Japanese franchises that were present at the mall. From high end restaurants to ice cream vendors and even clothing stores, I saw a lot of stores and brands I didn’t even know existed, but apparently were a big deal in Akihiro’s hometown.
Somewhere down the line we were leaving the mall and Gordon had the great idea to have us try another delicacy of Filipino cuisine. It was time to feast on a nice hot balut. I will let Wikipedia take this one:
A balut (spelled standardized as balot) is a developing duck embryo (fertilized duck egg) that is boiled and eaten in the shell.
That’s about right.
It costs 16 Philippine Pesos (35 cents) and it’s the equivalent of eating a bag of chips in the Philippines. Except it’s not at all like a bag of chips and this thing is practically a raw, living unrealized baby bird that’s also high on protein and might give you sex superpowers. But to enjoy these benefits you have to suck the broth surrounding the embryo once you peel off the shell from the egg and then you can enjoy it.
Gordon was gracious enough to treat me to the balut, but I bought a bottle of Coke to wash down the bitter taste of my bad decision. Akihiro and Ryo wolfed their eggs at break speed and they even laughed while they did it. Me on the other hand had to make a video, because I almost pussied out.
Balut is definitely an acquired taste which I don’t have, but the experience was fun. After we got on a jeepney to the hotel where Akihiro and Ryo would stay for a few days before heading back to Japan. We said our goodbyes and then Gordon and I headed back to the hostel to find that the place was almost empty.
The next morning, Gordon had to leave for work and I had to make the best of the last day I had left at the hostel. It was time to plan the next move after Philippines.