The MANILA ENVELOPE: My Limited Edition (1) Musings about Life as “Bagong Salta sa Maynila” (2)

(Inspired by my mentor and friend, Matthew Sutherland’s Observer series of articles in the Sunday Inquirer ca. 1999-2000)

MAKATI, Philippines – I finally arrived in Manila at 4 am after a long and bumpy ride from LAX. Like my last flight to Manila, we skipped the refueling stop in Guam and flew non-stop to Manila. Unlike the last time, I wasn’t as concerned as the ground staff of PAL at LAX explained that this would happen if the “weight and balance” of the plane as well as “wind conditions” (i.e. having a tailwind) were favorable. I guess the weighty (pun intended) cost of excess baggage has served as an effective deterrent to loading up on those balikbayan boxes (so much for all that SPAM, HORMEL corned beef and last-minute COSTCO knick-knacks).

Those government forms that you have to fill up still strike me as a little wacky. They now have advertisements on them. I don’t really know what to make of that. On the other hand, they have done away with those questions which go something like – “Do you intend to commit a crime during your stay in the Philippines?”. On the other other hand, they now have those health questionnaires in response to the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. Answer “Yes” to any of those questions and you’re in quarantine baby. Or not. On your way to immigration, they have these kiosks with ladies who you hand these questionnaires to. They take the form from you as you saunter by them. They don’t even give it the cursory once over. Maybe next time I’ll answer “YES” to all those questions and write down an alias as my name. I wonder what would happen when some functionary eventually looks at that form.

The nice thing about arriving in Manila that early is that you don’t get to experience its infamous traffic. The bad thing about arriving in Manila that early is that all the convenient eating places are closed. Maybe I should have had more of that delectable airline food.

Then the text messages started arriving. My brother had lent me his phone the last time and I had it with me as I arrived. Word goes around fast even at 6 am in the morning. You send one text message to a friend saying you’ve arrived and you receive a ton of messages back. As I said in my status posting – “First “Welcome to the Philippines” thing that struck me…nobody calls anyone on the phone, they just text message each other”. Even when you text them – “Call me” – you still get a text message back saying – “Col u l8r”. A friend explained this to me (via text naturally) – “Sorry about sending a text message when it’s more sociable to call. But in the Philippines today, it is at times, more polite, less intrusive, to text than call! Ha!”. Okay. Anyway, just as I was getting the hang of this text thing, I try to send out a text message while inside a bank. I guess I had run out of “load” (4). I tell my brother this and he tells me, oh by the way – you can’t text inside a bank, there’s thing about bank robbers and texting as their form of communication.

As the world works its way out of this economic mess, you couldn’t tell that such was going on by the number of people you see in the malls and in the restaurants in Manila (or in Greenbelt and Glorietta at least). You can also tell that the security industry is doing quite well with the number of security guards that you see all over the place. Each hotel I walked by also seemed to have its own K-9 unit. Even the Starbucks (in every street corner, it seemed like) had a security guard! To their credit, the guards were all quite nice and polite – opening the door for you and saying “Welcome to (name of establishment) Sir/Ma’am” all the while waving their metal detector wands over your body.

I’ve begun to re-learn the art of “patintero” (5) while crossing any street, even the ones with pedestrian lanes or traffic/crossing lights supposedly giving the pedestrian the right of way (right of what?). Here, THE CAR IS KING.

That’s it for now…jet-lag is starting to get to me…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

(1) Will run until I lose interest; (2) To my non-Tagalog friends, means being a newbie in some place; normally used to describe Filipinos newly arrived in other countries; (4) The predominant cell phone plans are prepaid plans, you buy these phone cards which have various denominations and “load” these denominations onto your phone service by dialing a certain number then entering the card’s Call and Text Number and the PIN associated with that card; (5) Can be taken to mean as playing cat and mouse with car/vehicle drivers when trying to cross a street

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