Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Manila

Manila is a huge sprawling city, with over 10 million people living in it. It's got a chaotic traffic situation resulting in pretty mad driving habits and the accompanying pollution problem. Most of the public transport still seems to be handled by the typical jeepneys, together with loads of taxis, motorized tricycles, pedicabs and even the odd horse cart.

It's not a nice city, and though actually surprisingly clean when you think about it, it doesn't look that way, giving a faded, drab, dusty impression, except for some of the towering glass buildings in the better districts. There's no real side walks to speak of, but then, anybody with some means wouldn't think about walking anywhere. Besides, it's just too hot to do that.

Manila is a city of great social contrasts. Shiny tall buildings look out over corroded metal shacks. A rich inner world of clean airconned malls versus the sweaty hot outer world of the poor. Where one person carelessly spends in one hour what another barely scrapes together in a month, or even a year.

Where on one side of a window a fat kid stuffs himself with a burger, while on the other side a starving kid is sifting through some garbage for a scrap of discarded food. It's a tough world we live in indeed. Armed guards are everywhere, some of them with heavy shotguns, to protect these fairy innerworlds from the harsh reality of the outside.

Ignorance is bliss. Better not to think about it too much. After all, I'm here on holidays, not to change the world. It's just that, well, I guess it bothers me when directly confronted with it like this...

I feel relatively safe walking around here, but I am cautious, trying not to display too much wealth. Most Philippinos strolling around in the mall are better dressed than me by the way. Nevertheless, with the amount of money I'm carrying, albeit in traveler cheques, the equivalent of several years salary for lots of people here, I feel like a walking talking winning lottery ticket.

The other day I'm pretty sure there was a guy following me through the department store. Maybe I'm being just a bit paranoid, but it would be quite a lot of coincidence that he happened to be interested in all the same random things as I was. As I slipped out, I saw him come out a couple of seconds later too, looking around, but by then I was already around the corner.

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