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Philippines & Japan 2023, Part Six: Manila

Continuing my trip recap:

Waiting #

We waited in the Panglao airport for a long while—our midday trip was delayed until the early evening, and the sun was already setting as we took off for Manila.

Sunset streaming into the inside of an airplane cabin, lighting up the overhead air conditioning nozzles.

I have a weird relationship with Manila—it’s the place where I spent most of my life in the Philippines, but it’s not a city I love. It’s densely-packed, but the transportation infrastructure that could alleviate that density is terrible. So traffic is even worse than it was growing up. A distinct change is the number of motorcyles on the road—lots of folks have turned to two wheel transport to try and beat the traffice.

Manila lacks the public parks/gardens that give you a respite from the urban crush in other cities. Instead you have…shopping malls. It feels bad that public space is oriented around commerce.

Back in the land of Malls #

We piled into two Grab rides (the local equivalent of Uber/Lyft) and made our way to our hotel in Makati City, one of the big commercial districts in Metro Manila. Makati is where we went to high school, and where we did most of our shopping and hanging out on weekends. My brother, his wife, and I took some time to walk around the Greenbelt shopping center, which used to be a patchwork of freestanding department stores and malls, all of which are now fused into one giant megazord complex.

A massive tree lit from below, against a purple night sky.
A tree in Greenbelt shopping plaza

Makati is a bit deceptive with its high-end hotels and boutiques and restaurants. Walking within the giant connected malls you can forget how much traffic, pollution, and poverty exist in other areas of Metro Manila.

Old city #

In the morning we piled into a van to tour some of historic Manila, parts of which date back to the Spanish colonial era. Along the way we passed some of Imelda Marcos’s old cultural center projects:

A weathered concrete theater with a facade that reads “Amazing Show”. The stairs leading up to the entrance are barred with chain-link fencing. An air of neglect hangs over the structure.
Manila Film Center

We also drove by the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) where my high school used to hold its graduation ceremony:

A long, concrete-and-glass building with a metal sign “Philippine International Convention Center” over the entrance.

Intramuros #

Intramuros was the old walled city where the Spanish lived while colonizing the country. Driving around Rizal Park and Intramuros we passed a fair number of kalesas (horse-drawn carriages).

A blue horse-drawn carriage carries a small family through the streets of Manila. Up front sits the driver with bare feet and a bored expression on his face.
Kalesa near Rizal Park

When the Spanish colonized the Philippines they eventually settled in Manila due to its existing trade infrastructure. They eventually built stone walls to enclose part of the city, many of which are still standing.

Tourists walk up a stone ramp leading to walls that surrounded Intramuros in Manila during the Spanish colonial era. In the distance the tops of skyscrapers peek over the stone walls.
Intramuros walls looking over the city

Fort Santiago #

We took some time to visit Fort Santiago, where Jose Rizal was imprisoned leading up to his eventual execution. There were some exhibitions covering his life, work, travels, and his eventual arrest and execution for promoting revolution against the Spanish colonists. The man was a polymath: a doctor, an artist in several mediums, a writer, and a linguist.

A section of a moat in front of the Spanish Fort Santiago in Manila.
Moat outside Fort Santiago
A crumbling arch through a central courtyard inside Fort Santiago’s walls.
Entering Fort Santiago
A statue of Jose Rizal, depicting him in a suit and hat.
A statue of Jose Rizal commemorating his death

Chinatown #

For lunch we drove a few miles over to Manila’s Chinatown, eventually stopping at the Lucky Chinatown mall for lunch.

A decorative arch with golden dragons reading “Welcome to Manila Chinatown”.
Ongpin South Bridge Arch
A hand fan for Gerry’s restaurant printed with the message, “I’m a Gerry’s Halo-Halo Fan”.
We love the puns

Makati City #

In the afternoon we split up—some folks went shopping, while my brother and I tried to connect our memories of Makati’s past with its present. It was easier to visualize the city from the streets outside the sprawling malls. We walked along Ayala Avenue, trying to remember which of the condominiums lining the street our friends had lived in.

Three apartment buildings shot from a low angle.
Condominium buildings along Ayala Avenue
A busy intersection. To the right is a hotel with a fountain surrounded by decorative steps, in the distance are skyscrapers and office buildings.
Corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues, with Paseo De Roxas in the distance. My mom’s old office is somewhere near the Lepanto building in the background.
Colorful jeepneys queued up for passengers, viewed from an elevated walkway above.
Jeepney stop

My brother pointed out how the Landmark department store was still there, but you could see where additional storeys were added over time—the two toned structure and ghostly imprint of the sign on the lower levels being the giveaway.

The Landmark department store. The facade is two-toned, indicating where additional storeys were added to the structure.
Can I still sing the Landmark jingle? You bet.

We regrouped for dinner at Manam in Greenbelt. Some of the dishes were interpretations of classic dishes, like a crispy pancit palabok that turned into a small tableside show:

Crispy pancit palabok (no audio). Video © Joseph Llobrera.

Greenhills and Fort Bonifacio Global City #

Wildflour Cafe #

The next day we had breakfast at Wildflour Cafe, sampling sesame lattes and ube croissants.

A board with a row of flaky pastries and mini-quiche.
A croissant with ube jam peeking through the layers.
Ube croissant
An ice cream cart.

6949 Rosal St #

We drove by the location of our old high school, which no longer exists—the site was taken over by a Trump Tower and a shopping mall. I had hoped to take a photo of the site but there’s no trace of our old school.

We had better luck finding the house we used to rent—the neighborhood around it was quickly getting converted to high-rises and shopping malls, but the house itself was still standing. I remember the green metal gate leading to the garage, even if the exterior has since been converted to a small store. I imagine the house will no longer be there the next time we manage to visit Manila.

An ice cream cart.
Our old home. Photo © Joseph Llobrera.

Greenhills Pearl Market #

Next we took a trip to the pearl markets at Greenhills. My mom makes handmade jewelry, and had been hoping to show us the pearl vendors so people could find gifts. My mom also selected some pieces that she would re-string with different designs and clasps.

A row of market stalls selling various jewelry and pearls.
A poster: a woman made up in an approximation of Audrey Hepburn’s black-dress-and-pearls aesthetic holds her finger up to her lips.
Looking down on a vast hall filled with market stalls. The ceiling above them is strung with different hanging advertisements.
Shoppers at a jewelry stand consider their options.

Fort Bonifacio Global City #

We drove to Fort Bonifacio Global City, a former military base that was opened up to commercial development. It’s the new location for our high school, the International School Manila. We tried to walk onto the campus but security wouldn’t let us in without an appointment. Here’s our sad photo outside:

Two men in t-shirts smile, behind them is a concrete-and-iron fence that surrounds a high school athletic field
Photo © Joseph Llobrera.

We closed out the day at the hotel pool, did a little shopping, and then had dinner at a sushi restaurant near our hotel—perhaps unconsciously prepping for our flight to Japan the next day.

An early evening view of distant hills outside Metro Manila.
Till next time, Manila

More photos on Flickr.