In less than a week I’m off to Manila. Since I’ve never been to the Philippines and have no idea what to expect, I’ve been trying to read up on the place I will soon call home. After spending a year in China, I have an idea of the initial chaos that awaits me. I say “initial,” because the craziness I experienced in China seemed to disappear after acclimation. (Although, I will say, you never really get used to the sight of a shoeless man hanging from a thin rope cleaning windows 30 stories up or women dressed in pajamas shopping in fancy department stores.)
Of course, each country has its own culture and ways of doing things, so I’m sure landing in Manila will be like diving into Lake Tahoe in December — you’re never really prepared for the shock.
So far my Lonely Planet guide book has been useless. It basically says you wouldn’t want to spend more than a few days in Manila. Fantastic. The only information about the Philippines I’ve been able to find in the U.S. press is about President Arroyo’s recent problems. So instead I’ve turned to the international press. Lucky for me the International Herald Tribune recently ran a story about Manila’s mayor, Bayani Fernando — a sort of Rudy Giuliani of Southeast Asia. His goal, it seems, is not only to clean up Manila, but also to add a dash of color to the city of more than 13 million.
Here’s an excerpt from the article that hints at what I have to look forward to:
The metropolitan area, which covers 630 square kilometers, or 240 square miles, is notorious for its traffic. The sheer number of vehicles staggers the imagination.
Undisciplined drivers weave around street vendors, competing with the ubiquitous jeepney, the gaudy vans devised from World War II military Jeeps that are the main mode of transportation here.
Street crime is rampant. A good portion of the population resides in shantytowns and on the streets, tens of thousands of them living off the 6,700 tons of garbage the metropolis generates daily.
Of this garbage, 1,500 tons a day are dumped into creeks, rivers and Manila Bay, which reeks, discouraging people from watching its famed sunset. Floods caused by trash that clogs the waterways are a common occurrence.
Lesson: Don’t swim in Manila Bay and watch out for those nasty floods caused by garbage.
The story goes on to say that Fernando has improved Metro Manila quite a bit, particularly with increased garbage pickup and, get this, roadside urinals for men, “whose habit of urinating anywhere they please contributes to the stink and results as well in what is possibly uniquely Metro Manilan: iron doors and gates corroded by urine.”
But possibly the best part of Fernando’s reforms, in my opinion, is that he has painted all pedestrian structures pink. It’s his favorite color, naturally, and, as the article states, he thinks it has a calming effect on commuters stuck in traffic. We’ll see about that.
You can view the IHT’s story here.