Saturday, 3 June 2017

This is a long one: Adventures in Manila

Although I prepared myself mentally for the chaos after hearing horror stories from colleagues who have been to Manila many times, I was still under-prepared for the string of troubles that were about to unfold. Getting out of the plane and through the customs, thankfully, was much better than I thought. (I had a last minute panic attack before heading to the airport because I was unsure if my visa waiver includes business trips.) Anyhow, I was half-expecting the border official to ask for bribes, but the lines were short and the process extremely efficient (only asked me how long I'm planning to stay). But oh boy, once I collected my bags and headed out to the arrivals area, reality finally set it. The small hall was filled with people, little stalls selling portable Wifi and SIM cards. The air was noisy and humid.

There were at least 4 different taxi options, but the signs at the crosswalk only pointed to a vague direction. So I turned around to ask a security guard where the queue for metered taxis are. Instead of answering my question directly, the guy was all smiles and started asking where I am heading to. To which I dutifully answered. Then he asked me to show it on a map for him, which I thought was weird because the hotel is 15 minutes away from the airport and should be a very popular choice. I still showed him the hotel on my phone nonetheless, thinking that there may be a few hotels with similar names. But then he started asking unrelated questions such as where are you coming from, which is normal when coming from a friendly info desk staff, but completely unnatural from a security guard. At this point, I was convinced he is not going to give me useful info to the taxi stand so I bid my farewell and said I'm going to look for it myself. He kept his smiles and just nodded. Because of this instance, for more than a week or so, I could not shake off the uneasy feeling whenever people smile at me. It is almost as if I suspect each of them to have an ulterior motive behind the pretence...

The "airport taxi" I got in wasn't much better either, even though it is supposed to be higher priced and safer. Or perhaps I was just not familiar with the customs, but apparently the taxis here do not have a habit of giving back changes. Or so I have discovered in the hard way. (Thankfully though I did get some smaller bills when I paid the toll) No wonder Uber and GrabTaxi are the norm here. It seems that Uber can only get a strong foothold where the taxis are utterly hopeless (as in the case of US and Philippines).

The scans and X-rays before entering the hotel I have heard of, so no surprise there. After getting into my room I finally relaxed and phoned my parents about my safe arrival. Half way through the shower, however, the realized that my drainage system broken. This is so unheard of that I first thought that I forgot to press a button for the release. After fingering my way through all the walls and making sure there were no artistically hidden buttons, I phoned the front desk. For the next hr, I sat bored on sofa while listening to the technician furiously plumbing away in the bathroom. To put it into context, it was 11:30pm; I was just off from a 17-hour journey, my brain threatening to shut on its master while I numbly browse through my Twitter feed, all the while listening to unending plumbing noises coming from my flooded bathroom.

In the end though they did switch me to a different room (after I "kindly" reminded the front desk that I have been waiting for 30 mins) and I finally was able to enjoy a nice shower shortly after midnight.

I did gather up my courage and decided to venture out on the first Sunday. There was after all a few places that I wanted to visit in the walled region Intramuros. On the map it looks like a nice stretch of coastal walk and a central park...but as I was on my way to my first destination, Manila Cathedral, I discovered the whole park is littered with trash and the lawn in a state of neglect. Pedlars lined the entrance to the cathedral selling toys and guided tours. Since I original intention was to draw the cathedral from outside, my whole body was on high alert as I brushed aside pedlars and find a good spot with view of the entire cathedral. I noticed that there were a few police patrolling the area, but after the incident at the airport, I did not feel any bit safer...

I can still feel the shakiness looking at the painting now (that is probably the most tense painting I've done, surpassing the one at Saints Peter and Paul Church in SF)

I couldn't wait to finish up with Manila Cathedral and head to the next stop, Fort Santiago, another relic from the Spanish colonial era. This time the fort together with its gardens were in a gated area. After I purchased the ticket and went it (not after being mistaken by a Chinese tour guide as part of his entourage) I discovered it is an oasis compared to the chaos outside, with casual Filipino tourists , Chinese and Korean tour groups, and some occasional western tourists roaming the area. So I settled down my stuff and painted the garden in front of the Fort.

The roofless building was really quite cool. I've never painted anything like this. At some point during the painting, there were a few Chinese tourists standing behind me watching and discussing, but I pretended I didn't hear them because it was really unbearably hot and I wanted to wrap up and go back as soon as possible lol

It was not the first time I stood for more than 3 hours painting, but my legs started aching as soon as I finished dinner as though I just finished a long hike. I suspect it was probably the high alert my whole body was on ;A; 

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