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January 28, 2008

Visions of the past ...

Starting in 1996 I made several trips to the Philippines capital, Manila, for business. I had been engaged to advise on fire safety for a major construction project and made several trips a year between 1997 and 2000. The contrats one encounters in this country are enormous, from fabulous wealth (Some apartments sell at $2 to $3 million a unit ) to abject poverty. Armed banditry is rife as is kidnapping, highjacking and some of the most amazing con artists in the business. Needless to say, you are warned of certain 'no-go' rules when you are engaged, but, by and large, I found myself well looked after and the majority of Filippinos are friendly, fun loving and generous to a fault.

A street in China Town, just outside the "Old City" known as "Intramuros". Crowded, busy and the shops sell anything and everything.

The entrance "Gate" to China Town in central Manila. Infrastructures are crumbling, but business is as usual. The horses are apparently descended from those brought by the Spanish in the 1500's ....

The old Spanish fortifications are still very much in evidence in the Old City and the area is known as "Intramuros" or literally "Within the Walls". Periodic earthquakes have left their mark on some buildings and on the streets too. The overhead powerlines are the craziest I have ever seen and in some places it looks like spaghetti overhead. The country suffers greatly from the fact that a small number of "families" seem to own just about everything - land, buildings and businesses. They also control access to key jobs and to elected posts such as Congress, the Senate and even the Presidency. Within that structure there is no "middle class" of Filippinos, it is, instead, provided by the ex-patriot community.

The Cathedral in Intramuros. The seat of the appropriately named Cardinal Sin, Papal Legate and Cardinal Archbishop of the Philippines.

The Pasig River runs through this part of Manila and discharges into Manila Bay. The Pasig rises in Laguna de Baye, a large and rather shallow lake West of Manila and runs through Taguig, Quezon City and Makati before discharging into the bay. Just for the record, Laguna de Baye is actually the caldera of a rather large and still active volcano. It just happens to have blown away its rim some centuries ago. The Pasig is also best described as an open sewer, yet many "squatters" have built houses on stilts over the waterway - a feat which may provide homes, but is also the source of tragedy and disaster when any of the frequent typhoons run through this area. On one of my visits, the Pasig carried away all the houses over it and drowned several hundred people.

The other big problem in Manila is the traffic. With almost no "public" transport of the co-ordinated and organised sort, the people here make their own arrangements. So the roads are clogged with Jeepneys offering the cheapest travel solution, buses if you're desperate, and taxis and private cars the preferred means of transport of the better off. If you are really poor there are motorised Rickshaws (Tuktuks in Thailand and Indonesia) - basically a Vespa Scooter modified to provide a tricycle. Or, even better, a moped (125 cc motorbike) which can carry three or sometimes four (depends if they are prepared to share the footrests) for a moderate fee. I am convinced that if you deprived any Filipino motorist of his car horns he'd be unable to drive ...

More reminiscences and photos of the Philippines soon.

Posted by The Gray Monk at January 28, 2008 09:32 PM

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