Manila • Midget Boxing Blues

I woke up in sunny Manila, a mere 6 hours after arriving at the hostel earlier that morning. It was a Saturday and I felt like going out in town for a beer after getting money back in my pockets.

The following is a retelling of the craziest night I had in Manila, Philippines.

New Game Plus

The day was weird from the start, as if someone had ordered a repeat of my first arrival to the city just to make me relive the same day with more experience under my belt. No longer shifty about my immediate surroundings, I now wanted to explore more of it and see how much deeper I could go.

My dorm had four beds, out of which one was already occupied by a stranger on the bunk above me. A few minutes after waking up I saw a couple of Japanese kids, Akihiro and Ryo, come into the room and drop their bags.  Suddenly I started smelling party in the air.

They were visiting Manila for the first time and were a bit surprised when I showed them I could speak a bit of their language. We struck a small conversation when the guy who was sleeping on the top bunk moved the curtain and introduced himself. His name was Gordon and he was in the city waiting to attend classes to complete his flight hours in pilot training.

Afternoon came unexpectedly fast after a day of doing nothing. I remember going out to pick up some “isaw” (chicken intestines), pork cheeks on a stick and “tocino” which is pork meat glazed with sugar, also on a stick. Street food in Manila is excellent and I didn’t see much of it while I was in the mountains, but in the city was almost impossible to not find street vendors selling all kinds of dishes to eat on the go, specially at nights.


I went back to the rooftop at the hostel and stumbled upon Paul, another hostel guest from England who apparently had been living in SE Asia for quite some time. He was talking to one of the girls from the hostel staff named Ruth, who was accompanied by Malee, a redhead girl who worked at a different hostel, but was also hanging around at the rooftop on the very first night I came to Manila.

The three of them had already started drinking when I got there, so it seemed like they had plans for the night, but I honestly didn’t care to know what they were, since I was all about going out for drinks.

While eating and talking I tried to cheer everyone to go out with me that night. Paul was a bit apprehensive at first, but the Japanese kids were all for it and it really felt like we could get the ball going. Gordon didn’t feel like going out so he called it an early night.

The reason I wanted to go out so much (aside from having money to spend) is that earlier that day I had read about a something that I simply could not pass up while in Asia: midget boxing.


The hostel I was in, 1 River Central, is located in Makati, in the fringes of one of the city’s red light districts. At first I thought: “wow, I’m really lucky to have found a place so close to where the party’s at!”, but Paul tried to ground my expectations by saying that it wasn’t that crazy of a place and it wasn’t dangerous either as long as you didn’t bring attention to yourself.

Paul, Akihiro, Ryo and I agreed to go, but then something we didn’t expect happened. Ruth wanted to come along since she saw Paul was coming with us, and she wanted to bring Malee with her too. I figured it would be ok — the more the merrier, right? — Paul on the other hand wasn’t digging the idea much.

He also didn’t like that I brought my camera with me for the ride.

Bodies Made of Neon

As soon as we got out of the hostel and hopped on a jeepney, my brain felt like it had just stepped into a Tron simulation. The rumble of jeepneys, the crazy music banging through the speakers, the weirdly perfect smile of the driver and his co-pilot who seemed like a mix between the fucking Chesire Cat and The Joker. Everything was light and nothing made sense.

We were headed to Ayala Avenue which is on the way to P. Burgos Street, a popular night life district  where the midget boxing bar was located. We couldn’t exactly get there due to the traffic, so we decided to hop off early and walk to the place.

My instincts told me we had reached P. Burgos Street when our path became guided, signaled and lit by a fluorescent road of green and red with shadows creeping from behind cars. Like an inverted rainbow road where we walked on the darkness and looked up to see the actual neon path taking us into who knows where.

Is she a woman? Is she a man?

Clusters of women wearing mini dresses with all kinds of colors suddenly started to appear on the sidewalk calling “Hello, Sir! Hi Sir!” to us, any of us, while we walked standing out from the crowd of older men on their way from one bar to the next. Not as a coincidence, this is also where you’ll find a lot of hostels, including the one where Malee worked.

We nearly walked from one end of the street to the other in our search of the midget boxing bar, seeing all kinds of crazy signs on the way. One bar offers “slapping girls”, which they told me was a place where I could pay to get slapped. I didn’t ask where.

The names of the bars kept getting more direct, like something straight out of a Bakshi adult cartoon: “Bottoms”, “Maskara”, “Blush” (but it actually reads “Bush” cause the L is off), “Tickles”, “Plan B” and suddenly there it is, right at the end of the road we found it:

Manila • Midget Boxing Blues

A group of about 4 little men are chilling outside, smoking and drinking while waiting for their turn in the ring. I walk up to the men and one of them introduces himself as Danny and tells me he’s about to fight in 15 minutes. I’m stoked beyond my wildest dreams, yes, including the one with the tiger.

I Can’t Make This Up

We go inside through two sets of really thick dark curtains and it’s exactly what I wanted to see. All my dreams are coming through in front of my eyes as I step into a darkly lit hole full of wonder and crazy shit. As if the curtains were a goddamn portal to an alternate reality and I have now, much like Charlie, stepped into a chocolate factory where the chocolate is covered in green glowstick juice.

It’s almost pitch dark if not for a dim black light that’s making everything and everybody’s skin look blue and a bunch of neon strobes which gyrate in many crazy patterns, much like the bodies of the girls in the place. The black light also gave me assurance that there were no dried up fluids where I was about to sit.

Turns out, Ringside isn’t a boxing bar that happens to have women in it. It is a hooker bar with a boxing ring on the side, which was currently doubling as a stage for some really bored girls doing a sad attempt at a choreography, purely for entertainment and marketing purposes while men pick the women they want to take to a motel nearby.

In the darkness I struggle to tell anything apart and all the girls look the same except for their color choice in bikinis and their dance moves which do not match Danza Kuduro at all. I have seen that music video, I know.

We walk in and sit on a table near the back, passing by a huge burly guy whose dancing shirtless near the ring while two ladies grind on each of his legs. In the far back I can see a girl cuddling one of the little men, his fit giddy moving up and down without ever coming near the floor as she plays with his hair. This is amazing.

We look at the drinks menu and of course everything is expensive, even for Filipino prices. We sit there waiting for more than 15 minutes, and Paul is thinking about what to order when a deep voice comes up on the speaker announcing the next fight is about to start. Then a guy who looks like a typical party bro from the US climbs into the ring and starts calling up the two fighters. My boy Danny is about to represent.

I get up and walk up to the ring, doing my best impression of a corner coach, which would’ve been embarrassing where it not for the fact the shirtless guy was now trying to twerk with the two girls who were grinding him earlier.

The match starts and I think I’m in for a bloodbath, but all I get is disappointment at the sight of Danny and the other little man exchanging a series of sad caresses that barely look like they even care in spite of the fact both of them wore helmets and pretty decent gloves. I should’ve started drinking way earlier if I had truly wanted for this to be exciting.

The “fight” is over before you know it and Danny lost, possibly because he was about 80 years older than the other guy, but he still comes over to my corner asking for a beer of support. I give him some money instead, because if life has taught me anything is that very few people are lucky enough to be asked anything by a boxing midget while at a hooker bar in Philippines, and if you’re ever one of those lucky people, you give that little person some coin and wish him a safe journey.

At this point is when the batteries on my camera die and I diligently tell the group that I’m going out to find a store where I can buy new ones. We agree to meet back up at the bar in a few minutes and off I go.

It took me about 20 minutes to find the store and argue with the store clerk because every set of batteries they had on sale were expired. I went through 3 pairs of them before coming back and finding the whole group standing outside the bar wearing faces of despair and confusion. It wasn’t the whole group.

— Ruth: “We can’t find Paul.”

— Me: “Wait, what do you mean you can’t find Paul? Where is he?”

— Ruth: “I don’t know, he went outside and I don’t know where he is.”

Paul had apparently ditched the group while I was away and now the two girls were yelling his name in the middle of the street, because apparently we couldn’t leave without him.

Ryo and Akihiro looked puzzled about the whole thing, but we three agreed we didn’t want to leave yet since we’d just got there. Ruth was acting all weird, but Malee was clearly drunk and then I started figuring out why Paul was less than excited that they decided to tag along.

Malee said she knew where Paul could be, but she had no way of reaching him and please don’t ask why I listened to the words of the drunken girl, but I figured if there was a way to get to Paul and calm the girls down, the first thing we needed to do was get hold of a phone.

That’s how we ended up at Malee’s hostel, still without a way to reach Paul because none of the girls had his number. What we learned: never follow a drunk person with a plan. Ever.

After running up and down Burgos looking for Paul to no avail, we ended up back at 1 River Central in Makati, where the Japanese kids and I agreed we would continue our party night now that the girls were back at the hostel. We figured the night was still young and wherever Paul was, he’d find his way home eventually.

This is when shit hit the fan.

Shit Hits The Fan.

First I must apologize, because I have neglected to say that up until this point, Malee had been giving me shit all night. Whenever I would show up at the hostel she would say pretty mean things at me and at first I tried being cool about it, but during this particular night she kept insulting me the more she drank, for seemingly no other reason than the fact I was a backpacker with a camera.

Frankly, I was happy that we got back to the hostel and we could leave both girls there so we could go out and check the boxing bar again without drama, but the exact opposite happened.

When we were out in the street trying to pull a jeepney over, Malee came running asking me for money to take a jeepney back to her hostel. I snapped at her, calling her out on the nerve to ask me for money after yelling crap at me all night, so I wouldn’t give her a dime.

The girl starts swinging her fists and trying to slap my face while yelling all kinds of stuff at me in Tagalog. We’re standing in the middle of the street past midnight and her screams are waking up the neighbors around the hostel who begin to look through their windows while the two Japanese kids start to look uneasy. I notice all this while I’m fending incoming blows from Malee by holding her arms and pushing her back out of the street and into the hostel lobby.

Ruth comes out and tries to calm her down, but Malee just won’t quit and meanwhile I’m trying to leave the place to get back to the street and get out of there. Ruth says she won’t calm down because she’s drunk and that’s just how she gets when she drinks, so she tells me and the other guys to go up to our rooms while she stalls Malee.

All three of us get back to our dorm and Gordon, who was trying to rest in peace is suddenly awake and with his eyes peeled at me: “what did you do?!”. I explain the situation and midway through the story we hear angry flip flop steps coming up the stairway.

Gordon quickly leaps from his bed and puts the lock on the door just an instant before hands start turning on the nob and slamming on the room door like a beast is outside. At this point, Ryo and Akihiro are looking positively frightened and Gordon is just laughing cynically as he tells me things like these are not uncommon since he started sleeping at the hostel.

Somehow Malee manages to open the door, but Ruth catches up to her and tries reasoning with her. She tries to swing at me again, but Gordon gets in the way and Ruth arrives to push her back and try talking some sense into her again. Now the two girls are yelling at each other in Tagalog and Gordon keeps looking like he’s enjoying the show and cutting into their yelling from time to time.

Malee realized she wasn’t going to get hit back, so she kept making a huge scene and provoking me. Meanwhile Ruth begins to apologize and I ask her for the phone number to call the police and try to see if they can calm Malee down.

Honestly I didn’t think calling the police was a good idea because I didn’t even know what they would do to her and more than likely it wouldn’t end well for anyone involved, but I knew it would give Ruth another argument to keep things from escalating further. My idea worked and Ruth managed to tell her to go to the hostel lobby and chill while instructing us to be quiet and stay in the room with the door locked.

Gordon told us that Malee was like this every time she started drinking and met someone she didn’t like, and just like when people see a bear in Animal Planet and they say you should pretend like you’re dead, he advised us to simply change and quietly go to sleep without making much noise. Eventually Malee got tired and we all got silence.

Before going to sleep I deeply apologized with Ryo and Akihiro for screwing up our night out. While it seemed fun at first, things got way out of control and looking back on it, I should’ve foreseen Malee would react the way she did simply because of how she’d been behaving since we first met.

I found Paul the next morning on the rooftop while we had breakfast and he said I took too long to return after I left, so he just talked to one of the girls at the bar and left with her. I was a bit upset at him, but figured he wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say at that point.

Gordon told me and the Japanese dudes that  he would go out to the city today and we could tag along with him if we wanted. I was game to be as far away from the hostel as I could that day and I think he agreed that would be for the best, since Malee had slept in the lobby couch that night.

And sure enough, there she was when we reached the lobby downstairs, with bags in her eyes and a death stare. She snarled something or another to provoke me, but I can’t remember what it was since I was busy putting on my shades and giving her the finger as I walked out the door.

I was on my way to seeing some more of Manila.

Welcome to The Big Journey. Where a Panamanian roams the Earth in search for purpose, adventure and answers. Part of the Pateando Calle series, find the archive here. Thank you for tagging along.

By Luis Landero

Still alive. Creator of Astromono and other unfinished projects. Lover of mustard, pancakes and travel.

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