Tuesday, April 17 and we were in Manila, capital of the Philippines, and I was really impressed with the city and the people. Everyone is so friendly. They wave and smile at our bus as we go by, whether they are walking on the sidewalk, riding on a moped, sitting on a bus, or working on fixing the road. The weather is again hot but not so humid.
The population is around 103 million people and the majority are Christians – 93% – and of that total, 85% are catholics, thanks to the Spanish who came there in 1571. They made Manila the capital of the Spanish East Indies and would control the area for the next three centuries. There is also a small Muslim community. The official languages are English & Filipino.
Manila became famous during the Manila – Acapulco galleon trade during the Spanish rule. They brought goods from Europe, Africa and Hispanic America across the Pacific. Silver that was mined in Mexico and Peru was traded for Chinese silk, Indian gems and of course the spices of Southeast Asia. I never knew Mexico figured into that trade route.
In 1762, Britain captured Manila during the Seven Years War and governed for a couple of years until the 1763 Treaty of Paris. Do you remember all of this from your history classes? I have found I have this vague knowledge of these countries and events, and this trip has certainly brought all of this history back to life. I try to fact check to make sure I have correct dates etc, but it is interesting to see the threads that weave the narrative of these countries and the empires who controlled them at various times throughout history.
In 1898, the US won the Spanish/American war and in 1901 the Philippines pledged alliance to the United States. Then in 1941 the Japanese occupied Manila at that point, decimating the city and its residents. General MacArthur declared Manila an “open” city to prevent further death & destruction saying he “would return.” He did, and joint American & Philippine troops recaptured the city. After Warsaw, Manila was the most devastated city in the world during the Second World War. So it amazing to see this planned city so vibrant today, as well as a major centre for commerce and finance.
We also made a stop at the American War Cemetery. Such a beautiful place to see with it s row up row of white marble crosses, green grass and everything is perfectly groomed. There are over 70 thousand Americans buried in the Philippines. Very moving and it is, in my opinion, as nice as Arlington in the US.
The city is divided into North and South by the Pasig river. We drive by the old Manila Hotel which was built in 1907 and has a recent modern addition. But the old part is beautiful and there is a sign over the employee entrance that says “the best employees in the world walk through these doors”. I thought that was a nice touch. Our tour guide told us it was a “religious” hotel because when you walked in and saw the beautiful lobby, you said “Oh My God!” and when you checked out and saw the bill you said, “Jesus Christ.”
Jeepneys are the most popular means of transportation. They started using the jeeps that were left behind after WW2. They are cheap transportation, colourful but crowded. Basketball is the country’s favourite sport. Who knew? We stopped the Lechon area where they skewer whole pigs or cows and roast them on a spit. They also use the intestines and testicles which are salted and then deep fried. A delicacy! Our tour guide assured us everything was delicious, but I noticed no one tried anything.
Across the street from the Lechon roasting area, was a Cock Pit where cock fighting is legal as long as it takes place inside a licensed cockpit. The fights happen every day just after noon and each fight lasts one minute, after which they decide a winner. The roosters were tethered along the sidewalk waiting for the fights to start. These ‘arenas’ are controlled by the government and so legal. However if you participate in cockfighting outside these specified areas, it is illegal. I guess mostly because the government doesn’t then get its share of the betting cash.
I was fascinated to visit a Chinese cemetery. The grave sites are like little subdivisions where various sized and designed mausoleums stand side by side and some actually have little apartments above where you can eat and sleep. Some are very plain and others very ornate. You pay for 25 years and have an option of renewing. Otherwise the building is taken down and the “plot” will be leased out to a new family. Cremation is becoming more popular, and they hire “crying ladies” to come and cry at your funeral.
Spacious graves/mausoleams where you can eat and spend ttime visiting. This one to the right, has space above where you can eat and sleep and also a balcony.
Shopping of course is never far from my heart and Manila is regarded as one of the best places to shop in Asia. Unfortunately I was on tour all the first day, and quarantined in my room on the second day of our visit here. So I guess I saved a lot of money.