|Hitching a ride on the back of an already full Jeepney in Manila|
|On our first day, a pair begging for money from cars idling|
When I was in high school in the 1980s, I had a few Filipina friends. At first they didn't explain why they were in Vancouver, but later I found out one of the families was anti-Marcos and was waiting for him to go. The others probably had the same political leanings.
|In the business district, Manila is sleek and modern|
I heard that these families run the plantation like fiefdoms, paying their workers low wages so their children couldn't be well educated, but always making sure they give each family a turkey for Christmas.
This uneven development and the wealth gap is very similar to China's, though the Philippines have democracy, and China does not. In both cases, however, corruption still hasn't been eradicated.
Philippine culture is a mixed-up one, thanks to the colonization of the Spanish for over 300 years. As one Fliipina put it, the Spanish only pushed religion on the colony, and so the Philippines is the largest population of Roman Catholics in the world, thanks to birth control being illegal...
After the Spanish, the Americans came for about 50 years, and gave them American English, rule of law, Spam and democracy. It is only in the last few years that the Philippines is starting to figure out its own identity and move away from its colonial mentality and become proud of its heritage.
This is reflected in the food, that has a combination of Spanish, American, Japanese and Chinese influences. And now some progressive chefs are looking to indigenous ingredients to find new flavours.
|A craft beer bar in Poblacion with friendly staff|
In Hong Kong the start-up costs are so prohibitive that it's way too risky to even try.
The ironic thing is that rich Filipinos like to go to Hong Kong to see what the trends are, when we ourselves look elsewhere!
So I am well aware that my trip was the sanitized version of Manila, and that we haven't even seen how the other side lives. But we managed to try a few trendy places in Poblacion, a red light district that is becoming more gentrified, and the food was not only delicious but very cheap compared to Hong Kong.
Therefore if someone has a decent-paying job, they can afford to eat relatively well.
The people are nice on the whole, but not very bright at times. And things do go on Philippine time -- ie. at least 30 minutes later. It requires a lot of patience and gentle pushing to get things done -- berating them does nothing.
Another thing is that during this conference, I saw a lot of women making high-level decisions. They seem to be the ones getting things done. A Filipina explained to me that it's because the Philippines is a matriarchal society, and so things are done from a practical standpoint because the men are too lazy, and also women make decisions behind the scenes, which is totally acceptable.
It's fascinating to watch these movers and shakers, and I wonder if I'll be back again to discover more of this city and its people.